Socknersh’s eyes opened wide, and the other men looked up from their work.
“Seemingly,” continued Joanna, “everyone on this farm hears everything before I do, and it ain’t right. Next time you hear a lot of tedious gossip, Dick Socknersh, you come and tell me, and don’t waste it on the gals, making them idle.”
She went away, her eyes bright with anger, and then suddenly her heart smote her. Suppose Socknersh took offence and gave notice. She had rebuked him publicly before the hired shearers—it was enough to make any man turn. But what should she do if he went?—He must not go. She would never get anyone like him. She almost turned and went back, but had enough sense to stop—a public apology would only make a worse scandal of a public rebuke. She must wait and see him alone ... the next minute she knew further that she must not apologize, and the minute after she knew further still—almost further than she could bear—that in denying herself an apology she was denying herself a luxury, that she wanted to apologize, to kneel at Socknersh’s clay-caked feet and beg his forgiveness, to humble herself before him by her penitence so that he could exalt her by his pardon....
“Good sakes! Whatever’s the matter with me?” thought Joanna.
Her apology took the discreet form of a side of bacon, and Socknersh did not give notice—had evidently never thought of it. Of course the shearers spread the story of Joanna’s outburst when they went on to Slinches and Birdskitchen and other farms, but no one was surprised that the shepherd stayed on.
“He’d never be such a fool as to give up being looker a day before she makes him master,” said Cobb of Slinches.
“And when he’s master,” said Mrs. Cobb, “he’ll get his own back for her sassing him before Harmer and his men.”
A few weeks later Socknersh brought the first of the cross-bred lambs to market at Rye, and Joanna’s wonderful sheep-breeding scheme was finally sealed a failure. The lambs were not only poor in wool, but coarse in meat, and the butchers would not deal, small mutton being the fashion. Altogether they fetched lower prices than the Kent lambs, and the rumour of Ansdore’s losses mounted to over four hundred pounds.
Rumour was not very wide of the fact—what with hiring fees, railway expenses, the loss of ewes and lambs at the lambing, and the extra diet and care which panic had undertaken for the survivors, the venture had put about two hundred and sixty pounds on the debit side of Joanna’s accounts. She was able to meet her losses—her father had died with a comfortable balance in Lewes Old Bank, and she had always paid ready money, so was without any encumbrance of debt—but Ansdore was bound to feel the blow, which had shorn it of its fleece of pleasant profits. Joanna was for the first time confronted by the need for economy, and she hated economy with all the lavish, colour-loving powers of her nature. Even now she would not bend herself to retrenchment—not a man less in the yard, not a girl less in the kitchen, as her neighbours had expected.