Joanna put down the photograph and straightened her back. She thought of her sister alone for the last time in her big flowery bedroom, lying down for the last time in the rose-curtained, mahogany bed, for her last night’s rest under Ansdore’s roof. It was the night on which, if she had not been motherless, her mother would have gone to her with love and advice. Surely on this night of all nights it was not for Joanna to shirk the mother’s part.
Her heaviness had gone, for its secret cause had been displayed—no doubt this anxiety and this question had lurked with her all the evening, following her from room to room. She did not hesitate, but went down the passage to Ellen’s door, which she opened as usual without knocking.
“Not in bed, yet, duckie?”
Ellen was sitting on the bolster, in her little old plain linen nightdress buttoning to her neck, two long plaits hanging over her shoulders. The light of the rose-shaded lamp streamed on the flowery walls and floor of her compulsory bower, showing the curtains and pictures and vases and father’s Buffalo certificate—showing also her packed and corded trunks, lying there like big, blobbed seals on her articles of emancipation.
“Hullo,” she said to Joanna, “I’m just going to get in.” She did not seem particularly pleased to see her.
“You pop under the clothes, and I’ll tuck you up. There’s something I want to speak to you about if you ain’t too sleepy.”
“About this wedding of yours.”
“You’ve spoken to me about nothing else for weeks and months.”
“But I want to speak to you different and most particular. Duckie, are you quite sure you love Arthur Alce?”
“Of course I’m sure, or I shouldn’t be marrying him.”
“There’s an unaccountable lot of reasons why any gal ud snap at Arthur. He’s got a good name and a good establishment, and he’s as mild-mannered and obliging as a cow.”
Ellen looked disconcerted at hearing her bridegroom thus defined.
“If that’s all I saw in him I shouldn’t have said ‘yes.’ I like him—he’s got a kind heart and good manners, and he won’t interfere with me—he’ll let me do as I please.”
“But that ain’t enough—it ain’t enough for you just to like him. Do you love him?—It’s struck me all of a sudden, Ellen, I’ve never made sure of that, and it ud be a lamentable job if you was to get married to Arthur without loving him.”
“But I do love him—I’ve told you. And may I ask, Jo, what you’d have done if I’d said I didn’t? It’s rather late for breaking off the match.”
Joanna had never contemplated such a thing. It would be difficult to say exactly how far her plans had stretched, probably no further than the argument and moral suasion which would forcibly compel Ellen to love if she did not love already.
“No, no—I’d never have you break it off—with the carriages and the breakfast ordered, and my new gownd, and your troosoo and all.... But, Ellen, if you want to change your mind ... I mean, if you feel, thinking honest, that you don’t love Arthur ... for pity’s sake say so now before it’s too late. I’ll stand by you—I’ll face the racket—I’d sooner you did anything than—”