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当前位置:主页 > 英国小说 > 德伯家的苔丝 > 第3章 新生 The Rally
第6节 第十七章 【
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奶牛从草场一回来,挤奶的男女工人们就成群结队地从他们的茅屋和奶房里涌出来;挤奶的女工都穿着木头套鞋,不是因为天气不好,而是免得她们的鞋子沾上了院子里的烂草烂泥。所有的女孩子都坐在三条腿的凳子上,侧着脸,右脸颊靠着牛肚子;苔丝走过来时,她们都沿着牛肚子不声不响地看着她。挤牛奶的男工们把帽檐弯下来,前额靠在牛的身上,眼睛盯着地面,没有注意到苔丝。
男工中间有一个健壮的中年人,他的长长的白色围裙比别人的罩衫要漂亮些、干净些,里面穿的短上衣既体面又时兴,他就是奶牛场的场主,是苔丝要找的人。他具有双重的身分,一个星期有六天在这儿做挤牛奶和搅黄油的工人,第七天则穿着精致的细呢服装,坐在教堂里他自家的座位上。他的这个特点十分显著,因此有人给他编了一首歌谣——
挤牛奶的狄克,
整个星期里:——
只有礼拜天,才是理查德·克里克。看见苔丝站在那儿东张西望,他就走了过去。
大多数男工挤奶的时候都脾气烦躁,但是碰巧克里克先生正想雇佣一个新手——因为这些日子正是缺少人手的时候——于是他就热情地接待了她;他问候她的母亲和家中其他的人——(其实这不过是客套而已,因为他在接到介绍苔丝的一封短信之前,根本就不知道德北菲尔德太太的存在)。
“啊——对,我还是孩子的时候,对乡村中你们那个地方就十分熟悉了,”他最后说。“不过后来我从没去过那儿。从前这儿有个九十岁的老太太住在附近,不过早已经死了,她告诉我布莱克原野谷有一户人家姓你们这个姓,最初是从这些地方搬走的,据说是一个古老的家族,现在差不多都死光了——新一辈人都不知道这些。不过,唉,我对那个老太太的唠叨没有太在意,我没有太在意。”
“啊不——那没有什么,”苔丝说。
于是他们只谈苔丝的事了。
“你能把奶挤干净吧,姑娘?在一年中这个时候,我不想我的奶牛回了奶。”
对于这个问题,她再次请他放心,他就把她上上下下地打量了一阵。苔丝长时间呆在家里,因此她的皮肤已经变得娇嫩了。
“你敢肯定受得了吗?干粗活的人在这儿觉得够舒服;可是我们并不是住在种黄瓜的暖房里。”
她郑重地说自己受得了,她说得很热情、很乐意,似乎赢得了他的信任。
“好吧,我想你先喝杯茶,吃点什么吧,嗯?现在不用?好吧,就随你便好了。不过说实话,要是换了我,走了这么远的路,就要干成芜荽菜杆了。”
“现在我就开始挤牛奶吧,好让我熟练熟练,”苔丝说。
她喝了一点儿牛奶,当作临时的点心——牛奶场的老板克里克大吃一惊,说实在的,还有点儿瞧不起——显然他从来没有想到牛奶还是一种上好的饮料。
“哦,你要是喝得下那种东西,你尽管喝吧,”他在有人阻止她从牛奶桶里喝牛奶时满不在乎地说。“这东西我多年没有碰过它了,我没有碰过它。鬼东西;喝在肚子里就像是一块铅躺在那儿。你拿那头奶牛试试身手吧,”他朝最近的那头奶牛点点头,又接着说下去。“不是说那头牛的奶不好挤。我们有些牛的奶不好挤,有些牛的奶好挤,就同人一样。不过,你很快就会弄清楚的。”
苔丝换下女帽,戴上头巾,真的在奶牛身下的凳子上坐下来挤牛奶了,牛奶从她的手中喷射进牛奶桶里,她似乎真的感到已经为自己的未来建立了新的基础。她的这种信念孕育出平静,脉搏的跳动缓慢下来,能够打量打量四周了。
挤牛奶的工人是由男人和姑娘组成的一小支队伍,男人们挤的是硬奶头的牛,姑娘们侍候的则是脾气比较温顺的牛。这是一个大奶牛场。把所有的牛都算起来,克里克管理的奶牛有一百头;在这一百头牛里,有六头或八头牛是奶牛场老板自己动手挤奶,除非是他出门离开了家。那些牛都是所有牛中最难挤的奶牛;因为他偶尔要或多或少地雇些临时工,他不放心把这些牛交给他们,怕他们做事不认真,不能把牛奶完全挤干净;他也不放心把它们交给姑娘们,怕她们手指头缺少力气,同样挤不干净;过了一段时间,结果这些奶牛就都要回了奶——那就是说,再也不出奶了。奶挤不干净的严重性倒不在于出奶量的暂时损失,而是在于牛奶挤得少,它就出得少,最后就完全停止出奶了。
苔丝在奶牛身边坐下来挤奶以后,一时间院子里的人谁也不说话了,偶尔除了一两声有人要牛转向或站着不动的吆喝外,听见的都是牛奶被挤进许多牛奶桶里的噗噗声。所有的动作只是挤奶工人们的双手一上一下挤奶的动作,以及奶牛尾巴的来回摆动。他们就这样不停地工作着,他们的四周是广大平坦的草场,一直伸展到山谷两边的斜坡上——这片平坦的风景是由早已被人遗忘的古老风景组成的,而且那些古老的风景同由它们构成的现在的风景比起来,毫无疑问已是天壤之别了。
“照我看呀,”奶牛场老板说,他刚挤完了奶,一手抓着三脚凳,一手拎着牛奶桶,突然从奶牛身后站起来,向附近的另一头难挤的奶牛走去。“照我看呀,今天这些奶牛出奶和平常有些不同。我敢肯定,要是温克尔这头牛真的开始像这样回奶,不到仲夏,它就一滴奶也没有了。”
“这是因为我们中间来了一个新人,”约纳森·凯尔说。“我以前就注意到这种事情。”
“不错。也许是这样的。我还没有想到这个。”
“有人告诉我说,在这种时候牛奶流到奶牛的牛角里去了,”一个挤牛奶的女工说。
“好了,至于说牛奶跑到牛角里去了,”牛奶场老板有些怀疑地接口说,似乎觉得甚至巫术都会受到解剖学上种种可能的限制,“我可不敢说;我的确不敢说。长角的奶牛回了奶,可是没有长角的奶牛也回奶了,所以我可不相信这个说法。你知道关于没有长角的奶牛的秘密吗,约纳森?为什么一年里不长角的奶牛没有长角的奶牛出的奶多?”
“我不知道!”有个挤牛奶的女工插嘴问。“为什么出的奶少呢?”
“因为在所有的牛中间,不长角的奶牛并不多,”牛奶场老板说。“不过,今天这些犟脾气的奶牛肯定要回扔了。伙计们,我们肯定要唱一两首歌儿了——那才是治这种毛病的唯一法子。”
当奶牛一出现出奶量比平常减少的迹象,人们往往就采取在牛奶场唱歌的办法,想用这种办法把牛奶引出来;老板要求唱歌,这群挤牛奶的工人们就放开喉咙唱起来——唱的完全是一种应付公事的调子,老实说,一点也没有自愿的意思;结果,就像他们相信的那样,在他们不停地唱歌的时候,出奶的状况的确有了改变。他们唱的是一首民歌,说是有一个杀人凶手不敢在黑暗里睡觉,因为他看见有某种硫磺火焰在围绕着他燃烧,他们唱到第十四段还是第十五段的时候,挤牛奶的男工中有人说——
“但愿弯着腰唱歌不要这样费气力才好!你应该把你的竖琴拿来,先生;不拿竖琴,最好还是拿小提琴。”
一直在留神听他们说话的苔丝,以为这些话是对牛奶场老板说的,不过她想错了。有人接口说了句“为什么”,声音似乎是从牛棚里一头黄牛的肚子里发出来的;这句话是那头牛后面的一个挤奶工人说的,苔丝直到这时才看见他。
“啊,是的;什么也比不上提琴,”奶牛场老板说。“尽管我确实认为公牛比母牛更容易受到音乐的感动——至少这是我的经验。从前梅尔斯托克有一个老头儿——名字叫威廉·杜伊——他家里从前是赶大车的,在那一带做了不少的活儿,约纳森,你不在意吗?——也可以这么说,我见面就认识他,就像熟悉我的兄弟一样。哦,有一次他在婚礼上拉提琴,那是一个月光明媚的晚上,他在回家的路上为了少走一些路,就走了一条穿过名叫四十亩地的近路,在横在路中的那块田野里,有一头公牛跑出来吃草。公牛看见威廉,天呀,把头上的角一晃就追了过去;尽管威廉拼命地跑,而且酒他也喝得不多(因为那是婚礼,办婚事的人家也很有钱),但是他还是感到他没法及时跑到树篱跟前跳过去,救自己的命。唉,后来他急中生智,一边跑,一边把提琴拿出来,转身对着公牛拉起一支跳舞的曲子,一边倒着向角落里退去。那头公牛安静下来,站着不动了,使劲地看着威廉·杜伊,看着他把曲子拉了又拉;看到后来,公牛的脸上都悄悄露出一种笑容来了。可是就在威廉停下来刚要翻过树篱的时候,那头公牛就不再笑了,低下头要向威廉的胯裆触过去。啊,威廉不得不转过身去继续拉给它听,拉呀拉呀,不停地拉;那时还只是凌晨三点钟,他知道再有几个小时那条路上也不会有人来,他又累又饿,简直不知道怎么办才好。当他拉到大约四点钟的时候,他真不知道他是不是很快就要拉不下去了,就自言自语地说,“这是我剩下的最后一支曲子了!老天爷,救救我吧,莫让我把命丢了。”哦,后来他突然想起来他看见圣诞节前夕的半夜里有头牛下跪的事来。不过那时候不是圣诞节前夕,但是他突然想到要同那头公牛开个玩笑。因此,他就转而拉了一首“耶稣诞生颂”,就像圣诞节有人在唱圣诞颂歌一样;啊哈,你瞧,那头公牛不知道是开玩笑,就弯着双腿跪了下去,似乎真的以为耶稣诞生的时刻到了。威廉等到他那长角的朋友一跪下去,就转过身去像一条猎狗蹿起来,祈祷的公牛还没有站起来向他追过去,他已经跳过树篱平安无事了。威廉曾经说过愚蠢的人他见得多了,但从没有见过那头公牛发现那天原来不是圣诞节而自己虔诚的感情受到欺骗时那种傻样的……对了,威廉·杜伊,这就是那个人的名字;这阵儿他埋在梅尔斯托克教堂院子里,什么地方我都能说得一点儿不差——他就埋在教堂北边的走道和第二棵紫杉中间那块地方。”
“这真是一个离奇的故事;它又把我们带回到中古时代,那时候信仰是一件有生命的东西!”
这是奶牛场里一句很奇特的评论,是那头黄褐色母牛身后的人嘟哝着说的;不过当时没有人懂得这句话的意思,就没有引起注意,只是讲故事的人似乎觉得这句话的意思是对他的故事表示怀疑。
“哦,这可是千真万确的事,先生,不管你信不信。那个人我熟得很。”
“哦,不错;我不是怀疑它,”黄褐色母牛身后的人说。
苔丝这时候才注意到和老板说话的那个人,由于他把头紧紧地埋在奶牛的肚子上,苔丝看见的只是他身体的一部分。她也不明白,为什么老板和他说话也叫他“先生”。不过苔丝看不出一点儿道理来;他老是呆在母牛的下面,时间长得足够挤三头奶牛的奶,他时而嘴里悄悄地发出一声喘息,好像他坚持不下去了。
“挤得柔和点儿,先生;挤得柔和点儿,”奶牛场老板说。“挤牛奶用的是巧劲儿,不是蛮力。”
“我也觉得是这样,”那个人说,终于站起来伸伸胳膊。“不过,我想我还是把它挤完了,尽管我把手指头都给挤疼了。”
直到这时候苔丝才看见他的全身。他系一条普通的白色围裙,腿上打着奶牛场挤奶工人打的绑腿,靴子上沾满了院子里的烂草污泥;不过所有这些装束都是本地的装束。在这种外表之下,看得出来他受过教育,性格内向,性情敏感,神情忧郁和与众不同。
但是苔丝暂时把他外表上的这些细节放到了一边,因为他发现他是她以前见过的一个人。自从他们那次相遇之后,苔丝已经历尽沧桑,因而一时竟记不起在那儿见过他;后来心里一亮,她才想起来他就是那个曾在马洛特村参加过他们村社舞会的过路人——就是那个她不知道从哪儿来的过路的陌生人,不是同她而是同另一个女孩子跳过舞,离开时又冷落她,上路同他的朋友们一起走了。
她回想起在她遭受了不幸以前发生的那件小事,对过去的回忆像潮水一样涌了上来,使她暂时生发出一阵忧郁,害怕他认出她来,并设法发现她的经历。不过她在他身上看不出他有记得的迹象,也就放心了。她还逐渐看见,自从他们第一次也是仅有的一次相遇以后,他那生动的脸变得更为深沉了,嘴上已经长出了年轻人有的漂亮胡须了——下巴上的胡须是淡淡的麦秸色,已经长到了两边的脸颊,逐渐变成了温暖的褐色。他在麻布围裙里面穿一件深色天鹅绒夹克衫,配一条灯芯绒裤子,扎着皮绑腿,里面穿一件浆洗过的白衬衫。要是他没有穿那件挤牛奶的围裙,没有人能够猜出他是谁。他完全可能是一个怪癖的地主,也完全可能是一个体面的农夫。从他给那头母牛挤奶所费的时间上,苔丝立刻就看出来,他只不过是在奶牛场干活的一个新手。
就在此时,许多挤牛奶的女工们已经开始互相谈论起她这个新来的人,“她多么漂亮呀!”这句话里带有几分真正的慷慨,几分真心的羡慕,尽管也带有一半希望,但愿听话的人会对这句评价加以限制——严格说来,姑娘们也只能找到这句评价了,因为漂亮这个词是不足以表现她们的眼睛所看到的苔丝的。大家挤完了当晚的牛奶,陆陆续续地走进屋内。老板娘克里克太太因为自恃身分,不肯到外面亲自挤牛奶,就在屋里照料一些沉重的锅盆和杂事;也因为女工们都穿印花布,所以在暖和天气里她还穿着一件闷热的毛料衣服。
苔丝已经听说,除她而外,只有两三个挤牛奶的女工在奶牛场的屋子里睡觉;大多数雇工都是回他们自己家里睡。吃晚饭的时候,她没有看见那个评论故事的挤牛奶的上等工人,也没有问起过他,晚上剩余的时间她都在寝室里安排自己睡觉的地方。寝室是牛奶房上方的一个大房间,大约有三十英尺长;另外三个在奶牛场睡觉的女工的床铺也在同一个寝室里。她们都是年轻美貌的女孩子,只有一个比她年纪小,其他的都比她的年纪大些。到睡觉的时候苔丝已经筋疲力尽,一头倒在床上立即睡着了。
不过,在和她毗邻的一张床上睡觉的女孩子,不像苔丝那样很快就能入睡,坚持要讲讲她刚刚加入进来的这户人家的一些琐事。女孩子的喃喃细语混合着沉沉的夜色,在半睡半醒的苔丝听来,它们似乎是从黑暗中产生的,而且漂游在黑暗里。“安琪尔·克莱尔先生——他是在这儿学挤牛奶的,会弹竖琴——从不对我们多说话。他是一个牧师的儿子,对自己的心思想得太多,因此不太注意女孩子们。他是奶牛场老板的学徒——他在学习办农场的各方面的技艺。他已在其它的地方学会了养羊,现在正学习养牛……哦,他的确是一个天生的绅士。他的父亲是爱敏寺的牧师克莱尔先生——离这儿远得很。”
“哦——我也听说过他,”现在她的伙伴醒过来说。“他是一个十分热心的牧师,是不是?”
“是的——他很热心——他们说他是全威塞克斯最热心的人——他们告诉我,他是低教派的最后一个了——因为这儿的牧师基本上都被称作高教派。他所有的儿子,除了克莱尔先生外也都做了牧师。”
苔丝此刻没有好奇心去问为什么这个克莱尔先生没有像他的哥哥一样也去做牧师,就慢慢地睡着了,为她报告新闻的那个女孩子的说话向她传过来,一同传过来的还有隔壁奶酪房里的奶酪气味,以及楼下榨房里奶清滴下来的韵律声。

The dairymaids and men had flocked down from their cottages and out of the dairy-house with the arrival of the cows from the meads; the maids walking in pattens, not on account of the weather, but to keep their shoes above the mulch of the barton. Each girl sat down on her three-legged stool, her face sideways, her right cheek resting against the cow; and looked musingly along the animal's flank at Tess as she approached. The male milkers, with hat-brims turned down, resting flat on their foreheads and gazing on the ground, did not observe her.
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 broadcloth in his family pew at church, being so marked as to have inspired a rhyme--
Dairyman Dick
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 used 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 cows going azew at this time o' year.'

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 one held up the pall 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 pall, 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 palls, except a momentary exclamation to one or other of the beasts 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 to-day 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 gamisters do certainly keep back their milk to-day. 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 milkers said--

`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 a 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 Hymn, 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 sack 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 the 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, had slightingly left her, and gone on his way with his friends.

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 new-comer, `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.

But one of the girls who occupied an adjoining bed was more wakeful than Tess, and would insist upon relating to the latter various particulars of the homestead into which she had just entered. The girl's whispered words mingled with the shades, and, to Tess's drowsy mind, they seemed to be generated by the darkness in which they floated.

`Mr Angel Clare - he that is learning milking, and that plays the harp -never says much to us. He is a pa'son's son, and is too much taken up wi' his own thoughts to notice girls. He is the dairyman's pupil - learning farming in all its branches. He has learnt sheep-farming at another place, and he's now mastering dairy-work... Yes, he is quite the gentleman-born. His father is the Reverent Mr Clare at Emminster - a good many miles from here.'

`Oh - I have heard of him,' said her companion, now awake. `A very earnest clergyman, is he not?'

`Yes - that he is - the earnestest man in all Wessex, they say the last of the old Low Church sort, they tell me - for all about here be what they call High. All his sons, except our Mr Clare, be made pa'sons too.'

Tess had not at this hour the curiosity to ask why the present Mr Clare was not made a parson like his brethren, and gradually fell asleep again, the words of her informant coming to her along with the smell of the cheeses in the adjoining cheese-loft, and the measured dripping of the whey from the wrings downstairs.