Alce’s face flamed as red as his whiskers and nearly as red as Joanna’s cheeks. For a moment she faced him speechless, her mouth open.
“Oh, that’s what they say, is it!” she broke out at last. “They say I’d marry Dick Socknersh, who looks after my sheep, and who’s like a sheep himself. They think I’d marry a man who’s got no more’n two words on his tongue and half that number of ideas in his head—who can’t think without its giving him a headache—who comes of no class of people—his father and mother were hedge people up at Anvil Green—who gets eighteen bob a week as my looker—who—”
“Don’t get so vrothered, Joanna. I’m only telling you what folk say, and if you’ll stop and think you’ll see they’ve got some reason. Your looker’s done things that no farmer on this Marsh ud put up with a month, and yet you keep him on, you with all your fine ideas about farming and running Ansdore as your poor father ud have had it ... and then he’s a well set-up young man too, nice-looking and stout as I won’t deny, and you’re a young woman that I’d say was nice-looking too, and it’s only natural folks should talk when they see a pretty woman hanging on to a handsome chap in spite of his having half bust her.”
“He hasn’t half bust me, nor a quarter, neither—and I ain’t hanging on to him, as you’re elegant enough to say. I keep him as my looker because he’s valiant with the sheep and manages ’em as if born to it, and because he minds what I say and doesn’t sass me back or meddle, as some I could name. As for being set on him, I’m not so far below myself as all that. You must think unaccountable low of me, Arthur Alce, if you figure I’d get sweet on a man who’s courting my chicken-gal, which is what Dick Socknersh is doing.”
“Courting Martha Tilden?”
“Yes, my chicken-gal. And you think I’d look at him!—I!... You must think middling low of me, Arthur Alce ... a man who’s courting my chicken-gal.”
“I’d always thought as Martha Tilden—but you must know best. Well, if he’s courting her I hope as he’ll marry her soon and show folks they’re wrong about him and you.”
“They should ought to be ashamed of themselves to need showing. I look at a man who’s courting my chicken-gal!—I never! I tell you what I’ll do—I’ll raise his wages, so as he can marry her at once—my chicken-gal—and so as folk ull know that I’m satisfied with him as my looker.”
And Joanna marched off up the drive, where this conversation had taken place.
She raised Socknersh’s wages to twenty shillings the next day, and it was not due to any wordy flow of his gratitude that the name of Martha Tilden was not mentioned between them. “Better leave it,” thought Joanna to herself, “after all, I’m not sure—and she’s a slut. I’d sooner he married a cleaner, steadier sort of gal.”
Grace Wickens had already departed, her cocoa-making tendencies having lately passed into mania—and her successor was an older woman, a widow, who had fallen on evil days. She was a woman of few words, and Joanna wondered a little when one afternoon she said to her rather anxiously: “I’d lik to speak to you, ma’am—in private, if you please.”