As Joanna’s volubility grew, her voice rose, not shrilly as with most women, but taking on a warm, hoarse note—her words seemed to be flung out hot as coals from a fire. Mr. Huxtable grimaced. “She’s a virago,” he thought to himself. He put up his hand suavely to induce silence, but the eruption went on.
“I know all the men, too. They’d do for me what they wouldn’t do for a stranger. And if they won’t, I know how to settle ’em. I’ve been bursting with ideas about farming all my life. Poor Father said only a week before he was taken ’Pity you ain’t a man, Joanna, with some of the notions you’ve got.’ Well, maybe it’s a pity and maybe it isn’t, but what I’ve got to do now is to act up proper and manage what is mine, and what you and other folks have got to do is not to meddle with me.”
“Come, come, my dear young lady, nobody’s going to meddle with you. You surely don’t call it ‘meddling’ for your father’s lawyer, an old man who’s known you all your life, to offer you a few words of advice. You must go your own way, and if it doesn’t turn out as satisfactorily as you expect, you can always change it.”
“Reckon I can,” said Joanna, “but I shan’t have to. Won’t you take another whisky, Mr. Huxtable?”
The lawyer accepted. Joanna Godden’s temper might be bad, but her whisky was good. He wondered if the one would make up for the other to Arthur Alce or whoever had married her by this time next year.
Mr. Huxtable was not alone in his condemnation of Joanna’s choice. The whole neighbourhood disapproved of it. The joint parishes of Brodnyx and Pedlinge had made up their minds that Joanna Godden would now be compelled to marry Arthur Alce and settle down to mind her own business instead of what was obviously a man’s; and here she was, still at large and her business more a man’s than ever.
“She’s a mare that’s never been praeaperly broken in, and she wants a strong man to do it,” said Furnese at the Woolpack. He had repeated this celebrated remark so often that it had almost acquired the status of a proverb. For three nights Joanna had been the chief topic of conversation in the Woolpack bar. If Arthur Alce appeared a silence would fall on the company, to be broken at last by some remark on the price of wool or the Rye United’s last match. Everybody was sorry for Alce, everybody thought that Thomas Godden had treated him badly by not making his daughter marry him as a condition of her inheritance.
“Three times he’s asked her, as I know for certain,” said Vennal, the tenant of Beggar’s Bush.
“No, it’s four,” said Prickett, Joanna’s neighbour at Great Ansdore, “there was that time coming back from the Wild Beast Show.”
“I was counting that,” said Vennal; “that and the one that Mr. Vine’s looker heard at Lydd market, and then that time in the house.”
“How do you know he asked her in the house?—that makes five.”