Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  From “Dorothy: a Country Story.” I. Dorothy

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Arthur Joseph Munby b. 1828

From “Dorothy: a Country Story.” I. Dorothy

DOROTHY goes with her pails to the ancient well in the courtyard

Daily at gray of morn, daily ere twilight at eve;

Often and often again she winds at the mighty old windlass,

Still with her strong red arms landing the bucket aright:

Then, her beechen yoke press’d down on her broad square shoulders,

Stately, erect, like a queen, she with her burden returns:

She with her burden returns to the fields that she loves, to the cattle

Lowing beside the troughs, welcoming her and her pails.

Dorothy—who is she? She is only a servant-of-all-work;

Servant at White Rose Farm, under the cliff in the vale:

Under the sandstone cliff, where martins build in the springtime,

Hard by the green level meads, hard by the streams of the Yore.

Oh, what a notable lass is our Dolly, the pride of the dairy!

Stalwart and tall as a man, strong as a heifer to work:

Built for beauty, indeed, but certainly built for labor—

Witness her muscular arm, witness the grip of her hand!

Weakly her mistress was, and weakly the two little daughters;

But by her master’s side Dorothy wrought like a son:

Wrought out of doors on the farm, and labor’d in dairy and kitchen,

Doing the work of two; help and support of them all.

Rough were her broad brown hands, and within, ah me! they were horny;

Rough were her thick ruddy arms, shapely and round as they were;

Rough too her glowing cheeks; and her sunburnt face and forehead

Browner than cairngorm seem’d, set in her amber-bright hair.

Yet ’t was a handsome face; the beautiful regular features

Labor could never spoil, ignorance could not degrade:

And in her clear blue eyes bright gleams of intelligence linger’d;

And on her warm red mouth, Love might have ’lighted and lain.

Never an unkind word nor a rude unseemly expression

Came from that soft red mouth; nor in those sunny blue eyes

Lived there a look that belied the frankness of innocent girlhood—

Fearless, because it is pure; gracious, and gentle, and calm.

Have you not seen such a face, among rural hardworking maidens

Born but of peasant stock, free from our Dorothy’s shame?

Just such faces as hers—a countenance open and artless,

Where no knowledge appears, culture, nor vision of grace;

Yet which an open-air life and simple and strenuous labor

Fills with a charm of its own—precious, and warm from the heart?

Hers was full of that charm; and besides, was something ennobled,

Something adorn’d, by thoughts due to a gentle descent:

So that a man should say, if he saw her afield at the milking,

Or with her sickle at work reaping the barley or beans,

“There is a strapping wench—a lusty lass of a thousand,

“Able to fend for herself, fit for the work of a man!”

But if he came more near, and she lifted her face to behold him,

“Ah,” he would cry, “what a change! Surely a lady is here!”

Yes—if a lady be one who is gracious and quiet in all things,

Thinking no evil at all, helpful wherever she can;

Then too at White Rose Farm, by the martins’ cliff in the valley,

There was a lady; and she was but the servant of all.

True, when she spoke, her speech was the homely speech of the country;

Rough with quaint antique words, picturesque sayings of old:

And, for the things that she said, they were nothing but household phrases—

News of the poultry and kine, tidings of village and home;

But there was something withal in her musical voice and her manner

Gave to such workaday talk touches of higher degree.

So too, abroad and alone, when she saw the sun rise o’er the meadows,

Or amid golden clouds saw him descending at eve;

Though no poetic thought, no keen and rapturous insight,

Troubled her childlike soul, yet she could wonder and gaze;

Yet she could welcome the morn for its beauty as well as its brightness

And, in the evening glow, think—not of supper alone.