“What—really now? And is it so, maidy?” he said.
“A very easy way to feel ’em go,” continued Tess, “is to lie on the grass at night and look straight up at some big bright star; and, by fixing your mind upon it, you will soon find that you are hundreds and hundreds o’ miles away from your body, which you don’t seem to want at all.”
The dairyman removed his hard gaze from Tess, and fixed it on his wife.
“Now that’s a rum thing, Christianer—hey? To think o’ the miles I’ve vamped o’ starlight nights these last thirty year, courting, or trading, or for doctor, or for nurse, and yet never had the least notion o’ that till now, or feeled my soul rise so much as an inch above my shirt-collar.”
The general attention being drawn to her, including that of the dairyman’s pupil, Tess flushed, and remarking evasively that it was only a fancy, resumed her breakfast.
Clare continued to observe her. She soon finished her eating, and having a consciousness that Clare was regarding her, began to trace imaginary patterns on the tablecloth with her forefinger with the constraint of a domestic animal that perceives itself to be watched.
“What a fresh and virginal daughter of Nature that milkmaid is!” he said to himself.
And then he seemed to discern in her something that was familiar, something which carried him back into a joyous and unforeseeing past, before the necessity of taking thought had made the heavens gray. He concluded that he had beheld her before; where he could not tell. A casual encounter during some country ramble it certainly had been, and he was not greatly curious about it. But the circumstance was sufficient to lead him to select Tess in preference to the other pretty milkmaids when he wished to contemplate contiguous womankind.
In general the cows were milked as they presented themselves, without fancy or choice. But certain cows will show a fondness for a particular pair of hands, sometimes carrying this predilection so far as to refuse to stand at all except to their favourite, the pail of a stranger being unceremoniously kicked over.
It was Dairyman Crick’s rule to insist on breaking down these partialities and aversions by constant interchange, since otherwise, in the event of a milkman or maid going away from the dairy, he was placed in a difficulty. The maids’ private aims, however, were the reverse of the dairyman’s rule, the daily selection by each damsel of the eight or ten cows to which she had grown accustomed rendering the operation on their willing udders surprisingly easy and effortless.