49.At the Hall Farm
THE first autumnal afternoon sunshine of 1801--more than eighteen months after
that parting of Adam and Arthur in the Hermitage--was on the yard at the Hall
Farm; and the bull-dog was in one of his most excited moments, for it was that
hour of the day when the cows were being driven into the yard for their afternoon
milking. No wonder the patient beasts ran confusedly into the wrong places, for
the alarming din of the bull-dog was mingled with more distant sounds which the
timid feminine creatures, with pardonable superstition, imagined also to have
some relation to their own movements--with the tremendous crack of the
waggoner's whip, the roar of his voice, and the booming thunder of the waggon,
as it left the rick-yard empty of its golden load.
The milking of the cows was a sight Mrs. Poyser loved, and at this hour on mild
days she was usually standing at the house door, with her knitting in her hands,
in quiet contemplation, only heightened to a keener interest when the vicious
yellow cow, who had once kicked over a pailful of precious milk, was about to
undergo the preventive punishment of having her hinder-legs strapped.
To-day, however, Mrs. Poyser gave but a divided attention to the arrival of the
cows, for she was in eager discussion with Dinah, who was stitching Mr. Poyser's
shirt-collars, and had borne patiently to have her thread broken three times by
Totty pulling at her arm with a sudden insistence that she should look at "Baby,"
that is, at a large wooden doll with no legs and a long skirt, whose bald head
Totty, seated in her small chair at Dinah's side, was caressing and pressing to
her fat cheek with much fervour. Totty is larger by more than two years' growth
than when you first saw her, and she has on a black frock under her pinafore.
Mrs. Poyser too has on a black gown, which seems to heighten the family
likeness between her and Dinah. In other respects there is little outward change
now discernible in our old friends, or in the pleasant house-place, bright with
polished oak and pewter.
"I never saw the like to you, Dinah," Mrs. Poyser was saying, "when you've once
took anything into your head: there's no more moving you than the rooted tree.
You may say what you like, but I don't believe that's religion; for what's the
Sermon on the Mount about, as you're so fond o' reading to the boys, but doing
what other folks 'ud have you do? But if it was anything unreasonable they
wanted you to do, like taking your cloak off and giving it to 'em, or letting 'em slap
you i' the face, I daresay you'd be ready enough. It's only when one 'ud have you
do what's plain common sense and good for yourself, as you're obstinate th'