'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.