“I’m middling sorry, missus.”
His voice was quite tranquil—it was like oil on the fire of Joanna’s wrath.
“Maybe you are, and so am I. You shouldn’t ought to have cotched hold of me like that. But it’s all of a match with the rest of your doings, you great stupid owl. You’ve lost me more’n a dozen prime sheep by not mixing your dip proper—after having lost me the best of my ewes and lambs with your ignorant notions—and now you go and put finger marks over my new alpaca body, all because you won’t think, or keep yourself clean. You can take a month’s notice.”
Socknersh stared at her with eyes and mouth wide open.
“A month’s notice,” she repeated, “it’s what I came here to give you. You’re the tale of all the parish with your ignorance. I’d meant to talk to you about it and give you another chance, but now I see there’d be no sense in that, and you can go at the end of your month.”
“You’ll give me a character, missus?”
“I’ll give you a prime character as a drover or a ploughman or a carter or a dairyman or a housemaid or a curate or anything you like except a looker. Why should I give you eighteen shillun a week as my looker—twenty shillun, as I’ve made it now—when my best wether could do what you do quite as well and not take a penny for it? You’ve got no more sense or know than a tup ...”
She stopped, breathless, her cheeks and eyes burning, a curious ache in her breast. The sun was gone now, only the moon hung flushed in the foggy sky. Socknersh’s face was in darkness as he stood with his back to the east, but she could see on his features a look of surprise and dismay which suddenly struck her as pathetic in its helpless stupidity. After all, this great hulking man was but a child, and he was unhappy because he must go, and give up his snug cottage and the sheep he had learned to care for and the kind mistress who gave him sides of bacon.... There was a sudden strangling spasm in her throat, and his face swam into the sky on a mist of tears, which welled up in her eyes as without another word she turned away.
His voice came after her piteously—
“Missus—missus—but you raised my wages last week.”
Her tears were dry by the time she reached home, but in the night they flowed again, accompanied by angry sobs, which she choked in her pillow, for fear of waking little Ellen.
She cried because she was humbled in her own eyes. It was as if a veil had been torn from the last two years, and she saw her motives at last. For two years she had endured an ignorant, inefficient servant simply because his strength and good looks had enslaved her susceptible womanhood....
Her father would never have acted as she had done; he would not have kept Socknersh a single month; he would not have engaged him at all—both Relf of Honeychild and Day of Slinches were more experienced men, with better recommendations; and yet she had chosen Socknersh—because his brown eyes had held and drowned her judgment, as surely as they had held her image, so dwindled and wan, when she looked into them that evening, between the setting sun and the rising moon.