That was the only time Joanna danced that night. For the rest of the evening she went about among her guests, seeing that all were well fed and had partners. As time went on, gradually her brightness dimmed, and her eyes became almost anxious as she searched among the dancers. Each time she looked she seemed to see the same thing, and each time she saw it, it was as if a fresh veil dropped over her eyes.
At last, towards the end of the evening, she went up again to Socknersh.
“Would you like me to dance this polka with you that’s coming?”
“Thank you, missus—I’d be honoured, missus—but I’m promised to Martha Tilden.”
“Martha!—You’ve danced with her nearly all the evening.”
“She’s bin middling kind to me, missus, showing me the steps and hops.”
“Oh, well, since you’ve promised you must pay.”
She turned her back on him, then suddenly smarted at her own pettishness.
“You’ve the makings of a good dancer in you, if you’ll learn,” she said over her shoulder. “I’m glad Martha’s teaching you.”
Lambing was always late upon the Marsh. The wan film of the winter grasses had faded off the April green before the innings became noisy with bleating, and the new-born lambs could match their whiteness with the first flowering of the blackthorn.
It was always an anxious time—though the Marsh ewes were hardy—and sleepless for shepherds, who from the windows of their lonely lambing huts watched the yellow spring-dazzle of the stars grow pale night after night. They were bad hours to be awake, those hours of the April dawn, for in them, the shepherds said, a strange call came down from the country inland, straying scents of moss and primroses reaching out towards the salt sea, calling men away from the wind-stung levels and the tides and watercourses, to where the little inland farms sleep in the sheltered hollows among the hop-bines, and the sunrise is warm with the scent of hidden flowers.
Dick Socknersh began to look wan and large-eyed under the strain—he looked more haggard than the shepherd of Yokes Court or the shepherd of Birdskitchen, though they kept fast and vigil as long as he. His mistress, too, had a fagged, sorrowful air, and soon it became known all over the Three Marshes that Ansdore’s lambing that year had been a gigantic failure.
“It’s her own fault,” said Prickett at the Woolpack, “and serve her right for getting shut of old Fuller, and then getting stuck on this furrin heathen notion of Spanish sheep. Anyone could have told her as the lambs ud be too big and the ewes could never drop them safe—she might have known it herself, surelye.”