Phase the First: The Maiden
9. CHAPTER IX
The community of fowls to which Tess had been appointed
as supervisor, purveyor, nurse, surgeon, and friend,
made its headquarters in an old thatched cottage
standing in an enclosure that had once been a garden,
but was now a trampled and sanded square. The house
was overrun with ivy, its chimney being enlarged by the
boughs of the parasite to the aspect of a ruined tower.
The lower rooms were entirely given over to the birds,
who walked about them with a proprietary air, as though
the place had been built by themselves, and not by
certain dusty copyholders who now lay east and west in
the churchyard. The descendants of these bygone owners
felt it almost as a slight to their family when the
house which had so much of their affection, had cost so
much of their forefathers' money, and had been in their
possession for several generations before the
d'Urbervilles came and built here, was indifferently
turned into a fowl-house by Mrs Stoke-d'Urberville as
soon as the property fell into hand according to law.
"'Twas good enough for Christians in grandfather's
time," they said.
The rooms wherein dozens of infants had wailed at their
nursing now resounded with the tapping of nascent
chicks. Distracted hens in coops occupied spots where
formerly stood chairs supporting sedate agriculturists.
The chimney-corner and once blazing hearth was now
filled with inverted beehives, in which the hens laid
their eggs; while out of doors the plots that each
succeeding householder had carefully shaped with his
spade were torn by the cocks in wildest fashion.
The garden in which the cottage stood was surrounded by
a wall, and could only be entered through a door.
When Tess had occupied herself about an hour the next
morning in altering and improving the arrangements,
according to her skilled ideas as the daughter of a
professed poulterer, the door in the wall opened and a
servant in white cap and apron entered. She had come
from the manor-house.
"Mrs d'Urberville wants the fowls as usual," she said;
but perceiving that Tess did not quite understand, she
explained, "Mis'ess is a old lady, and blind."
"Blind!" said Tess.