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