One day early in October the Vines asked Ellen to go with them into Rye and visit Lord John Sanger’s menagerie.
Joanna was delighted that her sister should go—a wild beast show was the ideal of entertainment on the Three Marshes.
“You can put on your best gown, Ellen—the blue one Miss Godfrey made you. You’ve never been to Lord John Sanger’s before, have you? I’d like to go myself, but Wednesday’s the day for Romney, and I just about can’t miss this market. I hear they’re sending up some heifers from Orgarswick, and there’ll be sharp bidding.... I envy you going to a wild beast show. I haven’t been since Arthur Alce took me in ’93. That was the first time he asked me to marry him. I’ve never had the time to go since, though Sanger’s been twice since then, and they had Buffalo Bill in Cadborough meadow.... I reckon you’ll see some fine riding and some funny clowns—and there’ll be stalls where you can buy things, and maybe a place where you can get a cup of tea. You go and enjoy yourself, duckie.”
Ellen smiled a wan smile.
On Monday night the news came to the Vines that their eldest son, Bill, who was in an accountant’s office at Maidstone, had died suddenly of peritonitis. Of course Wednesday’s jaunt was impossible, and Joanna talked as if young Bill’s untimely end had been an act of premeditated spite.
“If only he’d waited till Thursday—even Wednesday morning ud have done ... the telegram wouldn’t have got to them till after they’d left the house, and Ellen ud have had her treat.”
Ellen bore the deprivation remarkably well, but Joanna fumed and champed. “I call it a shame,” she said to Arthur Alce,—“an unaccountable shame, spoiling the poor child’s pleasure. It’s seldom she gets anything she likes, with all her refined notions, but here you have, as you might say, amusement and instruction combined. If only I hadn’t got that tedious market ... but go I must; it’s not a job I can give to Broadhurst, bidding for them heifers—and I mean to have ’em. I hear Furnese is after ’em, but he can’t bid up to me.”
“Would you like me to take Ellen to the wild beast show?” said Arthur Alce.