She was shrewd enough to see that the best way to capture Alce was to make herself as unlike her sister as possible. With him she was like a little soft cat, languid and sleek, or else delicately playful. She appealed to his protecting strength, and in time made him realize that she was unhappy in her home life and suffered under her sister’s tyranny. She had hoped that this might help detach him from Joanna, but his affection was of that passive, tenacious kind which tacitly accepts all the faults of the beloved. He was always ready to sympathize with Ellen, and once or twice expostulated with Joanna—but his loyalty showed no signs of wavering.
As time went on, Ellen began to like him more in himself. She grew accustomed to his red hair and freckles, and when he was in his everyday kit of gaiters and breeches and broadcloth, she did not find him unattractive. Moreover she could not fail to appreciate his fundamental qualities of generosity and gentleness—he was like a big, faithful, gentle dog, a red-haired collie, following and serving.
The weeks went by, and Ellen still persevered. But she was disappointed in results. She had thought that Alce’s subjection would not take very long, she had not expected the matter to drag. It was the fault of his crass stupidity—he was unable to see what she was after, he looked upon her just as a little girl, Joanna’s little sister, and was good to her for Joanna’s sake.
This was humiliating, and Ellen fretted and chafed at her inability to make him see. She was no siren, and was without either the parts or the experience for a definite attack on his senses. She worked as an amateur and a schoolgirl, with only a certain fundamental shrewdness to guide her; she was doubtless becoming closer friends with Alce—he liked to sit and talk to her after tea, and often gave her lifts in his trap—but he used their intimacy chiefly to confide in her his love and admiration for her sister, which was not what Ellen wanted.
The first person to see what was happening was Joanna herself. She had been glad for some time of Ellen’s increased friendliness with Alce, but had pat it down to nothing more than the comradeship of that happy day at Lord John Sanger’s show. Then something in Ellen’s looks as she spoke to Arthur, in her manner as she spoke of him, made her suspicious—and one Sunday evening, walking home from church, she became sure. The service had been at Pedlinge, in the queer barn-like church whose walls inside were painted crimson; and directly it was over Ellen had taken charge of Alce, who was coming back to supper with them. Alce usually went to his parish church at Old Romney, but had accepted Ellen’s invitation to accompany the Goddens that day, and now Ellen seemed anxious that he should not walk with her and Joanna, but had taken him on ahead, leaving Joanna to walk with the Southlands.