The Withered Arm
A LORN MILKMAID
It was an eighty-cow dairy, and the troop of milkers, regular and supernumerary, were all at work; for, though the time of the year was as yet but early April, the feed lay entirely in water-meadows, and the cows were 'in full pail.' The hour was about six in the evening, and three fourths of the large, red, rectangular animals having been finished off, there was opportunity for a little conversation.
"He brings home his bride to-morrow, I hear. They've come as far as Anglebury to-day."
The voice seemed to proceed from the belly of the cow called Cherry, but the speaker was a milking-woman, whose face was buried in the flank of that motionless beast.
"Has anybody seen her?" said another.
There was a negative response from the first. "Though they say she's a rosy-cheeked, tisty-tosty little body enough," she added; and as the milkmaid spoke she turned her face so that she could glance past her cow's tail to the other side of the barton, where a thin, faded woman of thirty milked somewhat apart from the rest.
"Years younger than he, they say," continued the second, with also a glance of reflectiveness in the same direction.
"How old do you call him, then?"
"Thirty or so."
"More like forty," broke in an old milkman, near, in a long white pinafore or 'wropper,' and with the brim of his hat tied down so that he looked like a woman. " 'A was born before our Great Weir was builded, and I hadn't man's wages when I laved water there."
The discussion waxed so warm that the purr of the milk-streams became jerky, till a voice from another cow's belly cried with authority, "Now then, what the Turk do it matter to us about Farmer Lodge's age, or Farmer Lodge's new mis'ess! I shall have to pay him nine pound a year for the rent of every one of these milchers, whatever his age or hers. Get on with your work, or 'twill be dark before we have done. The evening is pinking in a'ready." This speaker was the dairyman himself, by whom the...