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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 Blackmoor.His legs were thin and weak,and he could not walk in a straight line.He had an empty egg-basket on his arm, and his hat was old and worn.After a while he passed an elderly parson riding a grey horse.
    ‘Good night,’said the man with the basket.
    ‘Good night,Sir John,’said the parson.
    After another step or two the man stopped and turned round to speak to the parson.
    ‘Now,sir,last market-day we met on this road at the same time,and I said “Good night”and you answered“Good night,Sir John,”as you did just now.’
    ‘I did,’said the parson.
    ‘And once before that,almost a month ago.’
    ‘I may have.’
    ‘So why do you call me Sir John,when I am only John Durbeyfield?’
    The parson rode nearer,and after a moment's hesitation,explained:‘It was because I've discovered something of historical interest.I am Parson Tringham,the historian.Do you really not know,Durbeyfield,that you are a direct descendant of the ancient and noble family of the d’Urbervilles?They descended from Sir Pagan d’Urberville,who came from Normandy with William the Conqueror in 1066.’
    ‘Never heard that before,sir!’
    ‘Well,it's true.Let me see your face.Yes, you have the d’Urberville nose and chin.D’Urbervilles have owned land and served their King for hundreds of years.There have been many Sir Johns,and you could have been Sir John yourself.’
    ‘Well!’exclaimed the man.‘And how long has this news about me been known,Parson Tringham?’
    ‘Nobody knows about it at all,’said the parson.‘I just happened to discover it last spring,when I was trying to find out more about the d’Urbervilles and noticed your name in the village.’
    ‘I've got an old silver spoon,and an old seal too at home,’said the man,wondering.‘So where do we d”Urbervilles live now,Parson?’
    ‘You don't live anywhere.You have died,as a noble family.’
    ‘That's bad.So 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 it,sir?’
    ‘Oh,nothing.It's a fact of historical interest,nothing more.Good night.’
    ‘But you'll come and have some beer with me,Parson Tringham?’
    ‘No,thank you,not this evening,Durbeyfield.You've had enough already.’The parson rode away,half regretting that he had told Durbeyfield of his discovery.
    Durbeyfield walked on a few steps in a dream,then sat down with his basket.In a few minutes a boy appeared.Durbeyfield called to him.
    ‘Boy!Take this basket!I want you to go and do something for me.’
    The boy frowned.‘Who are you,John Durbeyfield,to order me about and call me“boy”?You know my name as well as I know yours!’
    ‘Do you,do you?That's the secret!Well,Fred,I 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 d’Urberville,that's who I am.And I've got the family seal to prove it!’
    ‘Now take up the basket,and tell them in the village to send a horse and carriage to me immediately.Here's a shilling for you.’
    This made a difference to the boy's view of the situation.
    ‘Yes,Sir John.Thank you,Sir John.’
    As they spoke,sounds 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 dancing,Sir John.’
    The boy went on his way and Durbeyfield lay waiting in the evening sun.Nobody passed by for a long time,and he could just hear the faint music in the distance.
    The village of Marlott lies in the beautiful Vale of Blackmoor.Although this valley is only four hours away from London,it has not yet been discovered by tourists and artists.The best view of the vale is from the hills surrounding it;it looks like a map spread out.It is a quiet,sheltered part of the countryside,where the fields are always green and the rivers never dry up.To the south lies the great dividing line of hills.From here to the coast the hills are open,the sun pours down on the huge dry fields,the atmosphere is colourless.But here in the valley lies a completely different countryside,smaller and more delicate.The fields are tiny,the air makes you sleepy,the sky is of the deepest blue.Everywhere you can see a rich greenery of grass and trees,covering smaller hills and valleys.This is the Vale of Blackmoor.
    And in the village of Marlott,following ancient custom,the young women gathered to dance every holiday. For this May- Day dance,all wore white dresses.There was a fine,handsome girl among them,with a red ribbon in her hair.As they danced,they noticed a carriage go by. Durbeyfield lay back in it,singing,‘I'm—Sir—John—and—I've—got—a—spoon—and—seal—and—my—family—lies—at—Kingsbere!’The girl with the ribbon,who was called Tess,turned red and said quickly to her friends,‘Father's tired,that's all.’The other girls just laughed but stopped when Tess looked unhappy.The dancing went on.
    In the evening the men of the village came to watch and later to join the dancers.Three young strangers,who were passing by,also stopped to look.They explained they were brothers on a walking tour.The older two continued their walk,but the youngest seemed more interested in the girls than his brothers were,and 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 late.He 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 afternoon,she decided to walk home. After the excitement of the dance, her parents'small cottage was a depressing sight.It was dark inside, as they had only one candle.The furniture was old and worn. There were six children crowded into the tiny space.Their mother was doing the washing at the same time as putting the baby to sleep.Looking after so many children had aged Joan Durbeyfield, but she still showed some of her early prettiness,which Tess had inherited.
    ‘Let me help with the washing, mother,’said Tess gently.
    ‘Oh Tess,I'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 Tess,frowning.
    ‘That's all part of the excitement!They've discovered we're the oldest family in the whole county,going back a long way!And our real name is d’Urberville!Doesn't that make you proud!That's why your father rode home in the carriage,not because he'd been drinking, as people thought.’
    ‘I'm glad of that.Will it do us any good, mother?’
    ‘Oh yes!Great things may come of it.No 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 know.It's fat round the heart,he says.That's the cause of his illness. He might last ten years… might last ten months or days.’
    Tess looked anxious.Her 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's.He needs to build up his strength to deliver the beehives tomorrow,remember.’
    ‘Oh my God!’cried Tess.‘He went to a public house!And you agreed to it, mother!’
    ‘No,I 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's.There she could sit by her husband's side among the beer-drinkers,and forget that the children existed.It was one of the few bright moments in her hardworking life.Mrs Durbeyfield went out,and Tess was left with the children.They were very young,and totally dependent on the Durbeyfield couple:six helpless creatures who had not asked to be born at all,much less to be part of the irresponsible Durbeyfield family.

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