Phase the First: The Maiden
9. CHAPTER IX (continued)
Almost before her misgiving at the news could find time
to shape itself she took, under her companion's
direction, two of the most beautiful of the Hamburghs
in her arms, and followed the maid-servant, who had
likewise taken two, to the adjacent mansion, which,
though ornate and imposing, showed traces everywhere on
this side that some occupant of its chambers could bend
to the love of dumb creatures--feathers floating within
view of the front, and hen-coops standing on the grass.
In a sitting-room on the ground-floor, ensconced in an
armchair with her back to the light, was the owner and
mistress of the estate, a white-haired woman of not
more than sixty, or even less, wearing a large cap.
She had the mobile face frequent in those whose sight
has decayed by stages, has been laboriously striven
after, and reluctantly let go, rather than the stagnant
mien apparent in persons long sightless or born blind.
Tess walked up to this lady with her feathered
charges--one sitting on each arm.
"Ah, you are the young woman come to look after my
birds?" said Mrs d'Urberville, recognizing a new
footstep. "I hope you will be kind to them. My
bailiff tells me you are quite the proper person. Well,
where are they? Ah, this is Strut! But he is hardly
so lively today, is he? He is alarmed at being handled
by a stranger, I suppose. And Phena too--yes, they are
a little frightened--aren't you, dears? But they will
soon get used to you."
While the old lady had been speaking Tess and the other
maid, in obedience to her gestures, had placed the
fowls severally in her lap, and she had felt them over
from head to tail, examining their beaks, their combs,
the manes of the cocks, their winds, and their claws.
Her touch enabled her to recognize them in a moment,
and to discover if a single feather were crippled or
draggled. She handled their crops, and knew what they
had eaten, and if too little or too much; her face
enacting a vivid pantomime of the criticisms passing in
The birds that the two girls had brought in were duly
returned to the yard, and the process was repeated till
all the pet cocks and hens had been submitted to the
old woman--Hamburghs, Bantams, Cochins, Brahmas,
Dorkings, and such other sorts as were in fashion just
then--her perception of each visitor being seldom at
fault as she received the bird upon her knees.