She had given him some frank and graphic details about the accouchement of her favourite cow, and he did not understand that the subject became different when it was human and personal.
“Because I—because we ain’t married yet.”
“Joanna, you little prude!”
She saw that he was displeased and drew closer to him, slipping her arms round his neck, so that he could feel the roughness of her work-worn hands against it.
“I’m not shocked—only it’s so wonderful—I can’t abear talking of it ... Martin, if we had one ... I should just about die of joy ...”
He gripped her to him silently, unable to speak. Somehow it seemed as if he had just seen deeper into Joanna than during all the rest of his courtship. He moved his lips over her bright straying hair—her face was hidden in his sleeve.
“Then we’ll stop at Mr. Pratt’s on our way home and ask him to put up the banns at once?”
“Oh no—” lifting herself sharply—“I didn’t mean that.”
“Well, it won’t make any difference to our marriage, being married three weeks later—but it’ll make an unaccountable difference to my wool prices if the shearers don’t do their job proper—and then there’s the hay.”
“On the contrary, child—it will make a difference to our marriage. We shall have started with Ansdore between us.”
“Well, I can’t argue with you—you must do as you like. My wife is a very strong-willed person, who will keep her husband in proper order. But he loves her enough to bear it.”
He kissed her gently, and they both stood up. At the same time there was a sharp scud of rain against the window.
The journey home was quieter and dimmer than the journey out. Their voices and footsteps were muffled in the roar of the wind, which had risen from sorrow to anger. The rain beat in their faces as they walked arm in arm over the shingle. They could not hurry, for at every step their feet sank.
“I said it was a tedious hole,” reiterated Joanna, “and now perhaps you’ll believe me—the folk here walk with boards on their feet, what they call backstays. Our shoes will be just about ruined.”
She was not quite happy, for she felt that Martin was displeased with her, though he made no reproaches. He did not like her to arrange their wedding day to fit in with the shearing. But what else could she do? If she was away when the shearers came, there’d be no end to their goings on with the girls, and besides, who’d see that the work was done proper and the tegs not scared out of their lives?
It was only six o’clock, but a premature darkness was falling as the clouds dropped over Dunge Marsh, and the rain hung like a curtain over Rye Bay, blotting out all distances, showing them nothing but the crumbling, uncertain track. In half an hour they were both wet through to their shoulders, for the rain came down with all the drench of May. Joanna could see that Martin was beginning to be worried about himself—he was worried about her too, but he was more preoccupied with his own health than other men she knew, the only way in which he occasionally betrayed the weak foundations of his stalwart looks.