“O yes; they’ll take one always, because few care to come. ’Tis a starve-acre place. Corn and swedes are all they grow. Though I be here myself, I feel ’tis a pity for such as you to come.”
“But you used to be as good a dairywoman as I.”
“Yes; but I’ve got out o’ that since I took to drink. Lord, that’s the only comfort I’ve got now! If you engage, you’ll be set swede-hacking. That’s what I be doing; but you won’t like it.”
“O—anything! Will you speak for me?”
“You will do better by speaking for yourself.”
“Very well. Now, Marian, remember—nothing about HIM if I get the place. I don’t wish to bring his name down to the dirt.”
Marian, who was really a trustworthy girl though of coarser grain than Tess, promised anything she asked.
“This is pay-night,” she said, “and if you were to come with me you would know at once. I be real sorry that you are not happy; but ’tis because he’s away, I know. You couldn’t be unhappy if he were here, even if he gie’d ye no money—even if he used you like a drudge.”
“That’s true; I could not!”
They walked on together and soon reached the farmhouse, which was almost sublime in its dreariness. There was not a tree within sight; there was not, at this season, a green pasture—nothing but fallow and turnips everywhere, in large fields divided by hedges plashed to unrelieved levels.
Tess waited outside the door of the farmhouse till the group of workfolk had received their wages, and then Marian introduced her. The farmer himself, it appeared, was not at home, but his wife, who represented him this evening, made no objection to hiring Tess, on her agreeing to remain till Old Lady-Day. Female field-labour was seldom offered now, and its cheapness made it profitable for tasks which women could perform as readily as men.
Having signed the agreement, there was nothing more for Tess to do at present than to get a lodging, and she found one in the house at whose gable-wall she had warmed herself. It was a poor subsistence that she had ensured, but it would afford a shelter for the winter at any rate.
That night she wrote to inform her parents of her new address, in case a letter should arrive at Marlott from her husband. But she did not tell them of the sorriness of her situation: it might have brought reproach upon him.
There was no exaggeration in Marian’s definition of Flintcomb-Ash farm as a starve-acre place. The single fat thing on the soil was Marian herself; and she was an importation. Of the three classes of village, the village cared for by its lord, the village cared for by itself, and the village uncared for either by itself or by its lord (in other words, the village of a resident squires’s tenantry, the village of free- or copy-holders, and the absentee-owner’s village, farmed with the land) this place, Flintcomb-Ash, was the third.