Tess of the D'Urbervilles Phase III: "The Rally," Chapter Seventeen Summary
This was long before the days of milking machines, so when the cows are all in the barnyard, the dairymaids and dairymen come out of their cottages to start milking.
The dairymaids all sit alongside the cows on their stools, with their cheeks pressed against the animals' flanks, watching Tess curiously as they milk the cows.
One of the men comes over to her – it's "Dairyman Dick," a.k.a. "Mr. Richard Crick," the owner of the farm and Tess's new boss.
He looks her over, asks about her experience, and says he knew her mother well – she had come from this part of the country, and had only moved to Blackmoor Vale after marrying Jack Durbeyfield.
He offers Tess a cup of tea, but she says she'll start milking immediately.
Tess begins milking, and finds the rhythmic pumping of the cow's udders to be soothing and meditative.
Dairyman Crick does his share of the milking, too, and they all set to work in silence.
There are more than one hundred cows in his herd – quite a lot.
Someone remarks that the cows aren't giving up their usual yield. Some think it's because there's a new dairymaid.
They sing a ballad as a group, because tradition has it that singing helps induce the cows to give more milk.
One of the dairymen asks someone to bring out his harp, while admitting that a fiddle would be better.
The dairyman in question asks why fiddles are better.
Tess hadn't seen him before, and still can't. He's on the other side of his cow.
The first dairyman gives a lengthy explanation in the form of a folktale about a man who played a Christmas hymn to a bull on a fiddle, and tricked the bull into thinking it was the Nativity.
The second dairyman finishes his cow, under the watchful eye of Dairyman Crick, who gives him a few pointers.
The second dairyman stands up, and Tess has a good look at him.
He's dressed the same as everyone else, but he looks different – more educated, more reserved, more sad.
He looks familiar to her. She realizes that it's the man who had been walking through Marlott on the day of the club-walking – it's the man who had not danced with her.
She panics momentarily. What if he has connections in Blackmoor, and is able to learn about her past?
But he doesn't seem to recognize her.
He's grown up a fair amount in the last couple of years, too.
She doesn't see him at supper, and asks no questions about him.
Her bedroom is over the milk house, and she shares it with three other milkmaids.
Tess is ready to fall asleep immediately, but the girl in the bed next to her insists on telling her about the strange milkman.
His name is Mr. Angel Clare, and he's learning about milking, and about all kinds of farming so that he can be a gentleman farmer somewhere. He plays the harp, and is the son of a parson, and is too busy "wi' his own thoughts to notice girls." His father, the parson Mr. Clare, is a very good preacher.
That's the parson that the man had told Tess about on her way back from Trantridge, so she perks up a bit, and asks more about him.
The girl tells Tess that both of Angel's brothers are parsons now, like their father, but Angel opted for a different career route.
Tess isn't able to stay awake for much more gossip, so she falls asleep.