THE dairy was certainly worth looking at: it was a scene to sicken for with a sort of calenture in hot and dusty streets — such coolness, such purity, such fresh fragrance of new-pressed cheese, of firm butter, of wooden vessels perpetually bathed in pure water; such soft colouring of red earthenware and creamy surfaces, brown wood and polished tin, grey limestone and rich orange-red rust on the iron weights and hooks and hinges. But one gets only a confused notion of these details when they surround a distractingly pretty girl of seventeen, standing on little pattens and rounding her dimpled arm to lift a pound of butter out of the scale.
Hetty blushed a deep rose-colour when Captain Donnithorne entered the dairy and spoke to her; but it was not at all a distressed blush, for it was inwreathed with smiles and dimples, and with sparkles from under long, curled, dark eyelashes; and while her aunt was discoursing to him about the limited amount of milk that was to be spared for butter and cheese so long as the calves were not all weaned, and a large quantity but inferior quality of milk yielded by the shorthorn, which had been bought on experiment, together with other matters which must be interesting to a young gentleman who would one day be a landlord, Hetty tossed and patted her pound of butter with quite a self-possessed, coquettish air, slyly conscious that no turn of her head was lost.
There are various orders of beauty, causing men to make fools of themselves in various styles, from the desperate to the sheepish; but there is one order of beauty which seems made to turn the heads not only of men, but of all intelligent mammals, even of women. It is a beauty like that of kittens, or very small downy ducks making gentle rippling noises with their soft bills, or babies just beginning to toddle and to engage in conscious mischief — a beauty with which you can never be angry, but that you feel ready to crush for inability to comprehend the state of mind into which it throws you. Hetty Sorrel’s was that sort of beauty. Her aunt, Mrs. Poyser, who professed to despise all personal attractions and intended to be the severest of mentors, continually gazed at Hetty’s charms by the sly, fascinated in spite of herself; and after administering such a scolding as naturally flowed from her anxiety to do well by her husband’s niece — who had no mother of her own to scold her, poor thing! — she would often confess to her husband, when they were safe out of hearing, that she firmly believed, “the naughtier the little huzzy behaved, the prettier she looked.”
It is of little use for me to tell you that Hetty’s cheek was like a rose-petal, that dimples played about her pouting lips, that her large dark eyes hid a soft roguishness under their long lashes, and that her curly hair, though all pushed back under her round cap while she was at work, stole back in dark delicate rings on her forehead, and about her white shell-like ears; it is of little use for me to say how lovely was the contour of her pink-and-white neckerchief, tucked into her low plum-coloured stuff boddice, or how the linen butter-making apron, with its bib, seemed a thing to be imitated in silk by duchesses, since it fell in such charming lines, or how her brown stockings and thick-soled buckled shoes lost all that clumsiness which they must certainly have had when empty of her foot and ankle — of little use, unless you have seen a woman who affected you as Hetty affected her beholders, for otherwise, though you might conjure up the image of a lovely woman, she would not in the least resemble that distracting kittenlike maiden. I might mention all the divine charms of a bright spring day, but if you had never in your life utterly forgotten yourself in straining your eyes after the mounting lark, or in wandering through the still lanes when the fresh-opened blossoms fill them with a sacred silent beauty like that of fretted aisles, where would be the use of my descriptive catalogue? I could never make you know what I meant by a bright spring day. Hetty’s was a spring-tide beauty; it was the beauty of young frisking things, round-limbed, gambolling, circumventing you by a false air of innocence — the innocence of a young star- browed calf, for example, that, being inclined for a promenade out of bounds, leads you a severe steeplechase over hedge and ditch, and only comes to a stand in the middle of a bog.
And they are the prettiest attitudes and movements into which a pretty girl is thrown in making up butter — tossing movements that give a charming curve to the arm, and a sideward inclination of the round white neck; little patting and rolling movements with the palm of the hand, and nice adaptations and finishings which cannot at all be effected without a great play of the pouting mouth and the dark eyes. And then the butter itself seems to communicate a fresh charm — it is so pure, so sweet-scented; it is turned off the mould with such a beautiful firm surface, like marble in a pale yellow light! Moreover, Hetty was particularly clever at making up the butter; it was the one performance of hers that her aunt allowed to pass without severe criticism; so she handled it with all the grace that belongs to mastery.
“I hope you will be ready for a great holiday on the thirtieth of July, Mrs. Poyser,” said Captain Donnithorne, when he had sufficiently admired the dairy and given several improvised opinions on Swede turnips and shorthorns. “You know what is to happen then, and I shall expect you to be one of the guests who come earliest and leave latest. Will you promise me your hand for two dances, Miss Hetty? If I don’t get your promise now, I know I shall hardly have a chance, for all the smart young farmers will take care to secure you.”
Hetty smiled and blushed, but before she could answer, Mrs. Poyser interposed, scandalized at the mere suggestion that the young squire could be excluded by any meaner partners.
“Indeed, sir, you are very kind to take that notice of her. And I’m sure, whenever you’re pleased to dance with her, she’ll be proud and thankful, if she stood still all the rest o’ th’ evening.”
“Oh no, no, that would be too cruel to all the other young fellows who can dance. But you will promise me two dances, won’t you?” the captain continued, determined to make Hetty look at him and speak to him.
Hetty dropped the prettiest little curtsy, and stole a half-shy, half-coquettish glance at him as she said, “Yes, thank you, sir.”
“And you must bring all your children, you know, Mrs. Poyser; your little Totty, as well as the boys. I want all the youngest children on the estate to be there — all those who will be fine young men and women when I’m a bald old fellow.”
“Oh dear, sir, that ’ull be a long time first,” said Mrs. Poyser, quite overcome at the young squire’s speaking so lightly of himself, and thinking how her husband would be interested in hearing her recount this remarkable specimen of high-born humour. The captain was thought to be “very full of his jokes,” and was a great favourite throughout the estate on account of his free manners. Every tenant was quite sure things would be different when the reins got into his hands — there was to be a millennial abundance of new gates, allowances of lime, and returns of ten per cent.
“But where is Totty today?” he said. “I want to see her.”
“Where IS the little un, Hetty?” said Mrs. Poyser. “She came in here not long ago.”
“I don’t know. She went into the brewhouse to Nancy, I think.”
The proud mother, unable to resist the temptation to show her Totty, passed at once into the back kitchen, in search of her, not, however, without misgivings lest something should have happened to render her person and attire unfit for presentation.
“And do you carry the butter to market when you’ve made it?” said the Captain to Hetty, meanwhile.
“Oh no, sir; not when it’s so heavy. I’m not strong enough to carry it. Alick takes it on horseback.”
“No, I’m sure your pretty arms were never meant for such heavy weights. But you go out a walk sometimes these pleasant evenings, don’t you? Why don’t you have a walk in the Chase sometimes, now it’s so green and pleasant? I hardly ever see you anywhere except at home and at church.”
“Aunt doesn’t like me to go a-walking only when I’m going somewhere,” said Hetty. “But I go through the Chase sometimes.”
“And don’t you ever go to see Mrs. Best, the housekeeper? I think I saw you once in the housekeeper’s room.”
“It isn’t Mrs. Best, it’s Mrs. Pomfret, the lady’s maid, as I go to see. She’s teaching me tent-stitch and the lace-mending. I’m going to tea with her tomorrow afternoon.”
The reason why there had been space for this tete-a-tete can only be known by looking into the back kitchen, where Totty had been discovered rubbing a stray blue-bag against her nose, and in the same moment allowing some liberal indigo drops to fall on her afternoon pinafore. But now she appeared holding her mother’s hand — the end of her round nose rather shiny from a recent and hurried application of soap and water.
“Here she is!” said the captain, lifting her up and setting her on the low stone shelf. “Here’s Totty! By the by, what’s her other name? She wasn’t christened Totty.”
“Oh, sir, we call her sadly out of her name. Charlotte’s her christened name. It’s a name i’ Mr. Poyser’s family: his grandmother was named Charlotte. But we began with calling her Lotty, and now it’s got to Totty. To be sure it’s more like a name for a dog than a Christian child.”
“Totty’s a capital name. Why, she looks like a Totty. Has she got a pocket on?” said the captain, feeling in his own waistcoat pockets.
Totty immediately with great gravity lifted up her frock, and showed a tiny pink pocket at present in a state of collapse.
“It dot notin’ in it,” she said, as she looked down at it very earnestly.
“No! What a pity! Such a pretty pocket. Well, I think I’ve got some things in mine that will make a pretty jingle in it. Yes! I declare I’ve got five little round silver things, and hear what a pretty noise they make in Totty’s pink pocket.” Here he shook the pocket with the five sixpences in it, and Totty showed her teeth and wrinkled her nose in great glee; but, divining that there was nothing more to be got by staying, she jumped off the shelf and ran away to jingle her pocket in the hearing of Nancy, while her mother called after her, “Oh for shame, you naughty gell! Not to thank the captain for what he’s given you I’m sure, sir, it’s very kind of you; but she’s spoiled shameful; her father won’t have her said nay in anything, and there’s no managing her. It’s being the youngest, and th’ only gell.”
“Oh, she’s a funny little fatty; I wouldn’t have her different. But I must be going now, for I suppose the rector is waiting for me.”
With a “good-bye,” a bright glance, and a bow to Hetty Arthur left the dairy. But he was mistaken in imagining himself waited for. The rector had been so much interested in his conversation with Dinah that he would not have chosen to close it earlier; and you shall hear now what they had been saying to each other.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08