She was now ready, and all she had to do was to run down and tell Mrs. Tolhurst that if Mr. Martin called while she was out he was to be asked to wait. She was not really afraid of missing him, for there were few short cuts on the Marsh, where the long way round of the road was often the only way—but she hoped she would reach North Farthing before he left it; she did not want anything to be taken from her surrender, it must be absolute and complete ... the fires of her own sacrifice were kindled and were burning her heart.
She did not meet Martin on the Brodnyx Road; only the wind was with her, and the rain. She turned aside to North Farthing between the Woolpack and the village, and still she did not meet him—and now she really thought that she would arrive in time. On either side of the track she followed, Martin’s sheep were grazing—that was his land, those were his dykes and willows, ahead of her were the lighted windows of his house. She wondered what he would say when he saw her. Would he be much surprised? She had come to North Farthing once or twice before, but not very often. If he was not surprised to see her, he would be surprised when she told him why she had come. She pictured how he would receive her news—with his arms round her, with his kisses on her mouth.
Her arrival was a check—the formalities of her betrothed’s house never failed to upset her. To begin with she had to face that impertinent upstart of a Nell Raddish, all tricked out in a black dress and white apron and cap and collar and cuffs, and she only a cowman’s daughter with a face like a plum, and no sense or notions at all till she came to Farthing, since when, as everyone knew, her skirts had grown shorter and her nose whiter and her hair frizzier and her ways more knowing.
“Good evening, Nell,” said Joanna, covering her embarrassment with patronage, “is Mr. Martin at home?”
“Yes, he is,” said Nell, “he came back this afternoon.”
“I know that, of course. I want to see him, please.”
“I’m not sure if he’s gone up to bed. Come in, and I’ll go and look.”
“Up to bed!”
“Yes, he’s feeling poorly. That’s why he came home.”
“Poorly, what’s the matter?” Joanna pushed past Nell into the house.
“I dunno, a cold or cough. He told me to bring him some tea and put a hot brick in his bed. Sir Harry ain’t in yet.”
Joanna marched up the hall to the door of Martin’s study. She stopped and listened for a moment, but could hear nothing, except the beating of her own heart. Then, without knocking, she went in. The room was ruddy and dim with firelight, and at first she thought it was empty, but the next minute she saw Martin huddled in an armchair, a tea-tray on a low stool beside him.
He started up out of a kind of sleep, and blinked at her.