In Chapter VIII we left off with Alec manipulating kisses out of Tess and Tess effectively shutting him down.
Now settling into her new job at the poultry farm we learn that the cottage at the farm has essentially been turned into a chicken/hen coop. And this is where Tess was to live, sounds great! Actually, the house before being a chicken coop sounded nice. Living with animals though, well that could be interesting.
And we do finally get to meet Mrs. d’Urberville who is blind, around 60 years old and loves her chickens. Mrs. d’Urberville proceeds to have her morning ritual of checking the cocks and hens with her hands. We also find out that she likes to have her animals whistled tunes too.
In this first meeting between Tess and Mrs. d’Urberville there is no indication that Mrs. d’Urberville is aware of the family connection. And we also find out that she’s not a big fan of her son, she’s “bitterly fond” of him. Why does none of this surprise me? Mrs. d’Urberville seems ok, she’s obviously involved in the household, but I’m guessing she’s not overly involved in her sons life.
As I was expecting, Tess and Alec do meet again, while Tess is practicing her whistling. A couple things stick out from this brief meeting. First, Alec mockingly calls Tess “cousin,” this is not a surprise to the reader who knows they are not cousins and we are given no indication if Tess picks up on it. Though I think she’s already suspicious that they are not cousins.
And so she starts to settle in, I like Hardy’s description of this:
A familiarity with Alec d’Urberville’s presence-which the young man carefully cultivated in her by playful dialogue, and by jestingly calling her his cousin when they were alone-removed much of her original shyness of him without, however, implanting any feeling which could engender shyness of a new and tenderer kind. But she was more pliable under his hands then a mere companionship would have made her, owing to the her unavoidable dependence upon his mother, and, through that lady’s comparative helplessness, upon him.
And it appears Alec is creepying around spying on her.