Chapter 21

There was a great stir in the milk-house just after breakfast. The churn revolved as usual, but the butter would not come. Whenever this happened the dairy was paralyzed. Squish, squash, echoed the milk in the great cylinder, but never arose the sound they waited for.

Dairyman Crick and his wife, the milkmaids Tess, Marian, Retty Priddle, Izz Huett, and the married ones from the cottages; also Mr Clare, Jonathan Kail, old Deborah, and the rest, stood gazing hopelessly at the churn; and the boy who kept the horse going outside put on moon-like eyes to show his sense of the situation. Even the melancholy horse himself seemed to look in at the window in inquiring despair at each walk round.

`'Tis years since I went to Conjuror Trendle's son in Egdon - years!' said the dairyman bitterly. `And he was nothing to what his father had been. I have said fifty times, if I have said once, that I don't believe in en; though a' do cast folks' waters very true. But I shall have to go to 'n if he's alive. O yes, I shall have to go to 'n, if this sort of thing continnys!'

Even Mr Clare began to feel tragical at the dairyman's desperation.

`Conjuror Fall, t'other side of Casterbridge that they used to call "Wide-O", was a very good man when I was a boy,' said Jonathan Kail. `But he's rotten as touchwood by now.'

`My grandfather used to go to Conjuror Mynterne, out at Owlscombe, and a clever man a' were, so I've heard grandf'er say, continued Mr Crick. `But there's no such genuine folk about nowadays!'

Mrs Crick's mind kept nearer to the matter in hand.

`Perhaps somebody in the house is in love,' she said tentatively. `I've heard tell in my younger days that that will cause it. Why, Crick - that maid we had years ago, do ye mind, and how the butter didn't come then--'

`Ah yes, yes! - but that isn't the rights o't. It had nothing to do with the love-making. I can mind all about it--'twas the damage to the churn.'

He turned to Clare.

`Jack Dollop, a 'hore's-bird of a fellow we had here as milker at one time, sir, courted a young woman over at Mellstock, and deceived her as he had deceived many afore. But he had another sort o' woman to reckon wi' this time, and it was not the girl herself. One Holy Thursday, of all days in the almanack, we was where as we mid be now, only there was no churning in hand, when we zid the girl's mother coming up to the door, wi' a great brass-mounted umbrella in her hand that would ha' felled an ox, and saying "Do Jack Dollop work here? - because I want him! I have a big bone to pick with he, I can assure 'n!" And some way behind her mother walked Jack's young woman, crying bitterly into her handkercher. "O Lard, here's a time!" said jack, looking out o' winder at 'em. "She'll murder me! Where shall I get- where shall I - ? Don't tell her where I be!" And with that he scrambled into the churn through the trap- door, and shut himself inside, just as the young woman's mother busted into the milk-house. "The villain - where is he?" says she, "I'll claw his face for'n, let me only catch him!" Well, she hunted about everywhere, ballyragging Jack by side and by seam, Jack lying a'most stifled inside the churn, and the poor maid - or young woman rather - standing at the door crying her eyes out. I shall never forget it, never! 'Twould have melted a marble stone! But she couldn't find him nowhere at all.'

The dairyman paused, and one or two words of comment came from the listeners.

Dairyman Crick's stories often seemed to be ended when they were not really so, and strangers were betrayed into premature interjections of finality; though old friends knew better. The narrator went on--

  By PanEris using Melati.

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