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The Maiden

 

1

 

One evening at the end of May a middle-aged man was walking home from Shaston to the village of Marlott in the Vale of BlackmoorHis legs were thin and weakand he could not walk in a straight lineHe had an empty egg-basket on his arm and his hat was old and wornAfter a while he passed an elderly parson riding a grey horse

Good night,’said the man with the basket

Good nightSir John,’said the parson

After another step or two the man stopped and turned round to speak to the parson

Nowsirlast market-day we met on this road at the same timeand I said Good nightand you answeredGood nightSir John,”as you did just now.’

I did,’said the parson

And once before thatalmost a month ago.’

I may have.’

So why do you call me Sir Johnwhen I am only John Durbeyfield?’

The parson rode nearerand after a moment's hesitationexplained:‘It was because I've discovered something of historical interestI am Parson Tringhamthe historianDo you really not knowDurbeyfieldthat you are a direct descendant of the ancient and noble family of the dUrbervillesThey descended from Sir Pagan dUrbervillewho came from Normandy with William the Conqueror in 1066.’

Never heard that beforesir!’

Wellit's trueLet me see your faceYes you have the dUrberville nose and chinDUrbervilles have owned land and served their King for hundreds of yearsThere have been many Sir Johnsand you could have been Sir John yourself.’

Well!’exclaimed the man.‘And how long has this news about me been knownParson Tringham?’

Nobody knows about it at all,’said the parson.‘I just happened to discover it last springwhen I was trying to find out more about the dUrbervilles and noticed your name in the village.’

I've got an old silver spoonand an old seal too at home,’said the manwondering.‘So where do we dUrbervilles live nowParson?’

You don't live anywhereYou have diedas a noble family.’

That's badSo where do we lie?’

In the churchyard at Kingsbere-sub-Greenhill.’

And where are our family lands?’

You haven't any.’

John Durbeyfield paused.‘And what should I do about itsir?’

OhnothingIt's a fact of historical interestnothing moreGood night.’

But you'll come and have some beer with meParson Tringham?’

Nothank younot this eveningDurbeyfieldYou've had enough already.’The parson rode awayhalf regretting that he had told Durbeyfield of his discovery

Durbeyfield walked on a few steps in a dreamthen sat down with his basketIn a few minutes a boy appearedDurbeyfield called to him

BoyTake this basketI want you to go and do something for me.’

The boy frowned.‘Who are youJohn Durbeyfieldto order me about and call meboy”?You know my name as well as I know yours!’

Do youdo youThat's the secretWellFredI don't mind telling you that the secret is that I'm one of a noble family.’And Durbeyfield lay back comfortably on the grass.‘Sir John dUrbervillethat's who I amAnd I've got the family seal to prove it!’

Oh?’

Now take up the basketand tell them in the village to send a horse and carriage to me immediatelyHere's a shilling for you.’

This made a difference to the boy's view of the situation

YesSir JohnThank youSir John.’

As they spokesounds of music came through the evening air from the village

What's that?’said Durbeyfield.‘Have they heard my news already?’

It's the women dancingSir John.’

The boy went on his way and Durbeyfield lay waiting in the evening sunNobody passed by for a long timeand he could just hear the faint music in the distance

The village of Marlott lies in the beautiful Vale of BlackmoorAlthough this valley is only four hours away from Londonit has not yet been discovered by tourists and artistsThe best view of the vale is from the hills surrounding itit looks like a map spread outIt is a quietsheltered part of the countrysidewhere the fields are always green and the rivers never dry upTo the south lies the great dividing line of hillsFrom here to the coast the hills are openthe sun pours down on the huge dry fieldsthe atmosphere is colourlessBut here in the valley lies a completely different countrysidesmaller and more delicateThe fields are tinythe air makes you sleepythe sky is of the deepest blueEverywhere you can see a rich greenery of grass and treescovering smaller hills and valleysThis is the Vale of Blackmoor

And in the village of Marlottfollowing ancient customthe young women gathered to dance every holiday For this May- Day danceall wore white dressesThere was a finehandsome girl among themwith a red ribbon in her hairAs they dancedthey noticed a carriage go by Durbeyfield lay back in itsinging,‘I'mSirJohnandI'vegotaspoonandsealandmyfamilyliesatKingsbere!’The girl with the ribbonwho was called Tessturned red and said quickly to her friends,‘Father's tiredthat's all.’The other girls just laughed but stopped when Tess looked unhappyThe dancing went on

In the evening the men of the village came to watch and later to join the dancersThree young strangerswho were passing byalso stopped to lookThey explained they were brothers on a walking tourThe older two continued their walkbut the youngest seemed more interested in the girls than his brothers wereand stayed to dance with several of them As he left the dance he noticed Tess who seemed a little sad that he had not chosen her He looked back from the road and could still see her in her white dress standing modestly apart from the dancers He wished he had danced with her He wished he had asked her name But it was too lateHe hurried on to join his brothers

The young stranger had made an impression on Tess But soon worried by her father's strange appearance that afternoonshe decided to walk home After the excitement of the dance her parents'small cottage was a depressing sightIt was dark inside as they had only one candleThe furniture was old and worn There were six children crowded into the tiny spaceTheir mother was doing the washing at the same time as putting the baby to sleepLooking after so many children had aged Joan Durbeyfield but she still showed some of her early prettinesswhich Tess had inherited

Let me help with the washing mother,’said Tess gently

Oh TessI'm glad you've come,’said her mother.‘There's something I must tell you.’

Is it anything to do with father making such a fool of himself this afternoon?’asked Tessfrowning

That's all part of the excitementThey've discovered we're the oldest family in the whole countygoing back a long wayAnd our real name is dUrbervilleDoesn't that make you proudThat's why your father rode home in the carriagenot because he'd been drinking as people thought.’

I'm glad of thatWill it do us any good mother?’

Oh yesGreat things may come of itNo doubt our noble relations will be arriving in their carriages as soon as they find out.’

Where is father now?’asked Tess suddenly

Her mother did not answer directly.‘He saw the doctor today you knowIt's fat round the hearthe saysThat's the cause of his illness He might last ten years might last ten months or days.’

Tess looked anxiousHer father suddenly a great man to die so soon!‘But where is father?’she asked firmly

Now don't you get angry!’said Mrs Durbeyfield.‘The poor man was feeling so weak after the news that he went to Rolliver'sHe needs to build up his strength to deliver the beehives tomorrowremember.’

Oh my God!’cried Tess.‘He went to a public houseAnd you agreed to it mother!’

NoI didn't,’said Mrs Durbeyfield crossly.‘I've been waiting for you to look after the children while I fetch him.’

Tess knew that her mother greatly looked forwad to these trips to Rolliver'sThere she could sit by her husband's side among the beer-drinkersand forget that the children existedIt was one of the few bright moments in her hardworking lifeMrs Durbeyfield went outand Tess was left with the childrenThey were very youngand totally dependent on the Durbeyfield couplesix helpless creatures who had not asked to be born at allmuch less to be part of the irresponsible Durbeyfield family

 


 

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