Joanna was now thirty-three years old, and in some ways looked older than her age, in others younger. Her skin, richly weather-beaten into reds and browns, and her strong, well-developed figure in its old-fashioned stays, made her look older than her eyes, which had an expectant, childish gravity in their brightness, and than her mouth, which was still a young woman’s mouth, large, eager, full-lipped, with strong, little, white teeth. Her hair was beautiful—it had no sleekness, but, even in its coils, looked rough and abundant, and it had the same rich, apple-red colours in it as her skin.
She still had plenty of admirers, for the years had made her more rather than less desirable in herself, and men had grown used to her independence among them. Moreover, she was a “catch,” a maid with money, and this may have influenced the decorous, well-considered offers she had about this time from farmers inland as well as on the Marsh. She refused them decidedly—nevertheless, it was obvious that she was well pleased to have been asked; these solid, estimable proposals testified to a quality in her life which had not been there before.
Yes—she had done well for herself on the whole, she thought. Looking back over her life, over the ten years she had ruled at Ansdore, she saw success consistently rewarding hard work and high ambition. She saw, too, strange gaps—parts of the road which had grown dim in her memory, parts where probably there had been a turning, where she might have left this well-laid, direct and beaten highway for more romantic field-paths. It was queer, when she came to think of it, that nothing in her life had been really successful except Ansdore, that directly she had turned off her high-road she had become at once as it were bogged and lantern-led. Socknersh ... Martin ... Ellen ... there had been by-ways, dim paths leading into queer unknown fields, a strange beautiful land, which now she would never know.
Ellen watched her sister’s thriving. “She’s almost a lady,” she said to herself, “and it’s wasted on her.” She was inclined to be dissatisfied with her own position in local society. When she had first married she had not thought it would be difficult to get herself accepted as “county” in the new neighbourhood, but she had soon discovered that she had had far more consequence as Joanna Godden’s sister than she would ever have as Arthur Alce’s wife. Even in those days Little Ansdore had been a farm of the first importance, and Joanna was at least notorious where she was not celebrated; but Donkey Street held comparatively humble rank in a district overshadowed by Dungemarsh Court, and Arthur was not the man to push himself into consideration, though Ellen had agreed that half her marriage portion should be spent on the improvement of his farm.