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 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 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.