“I’d have had her at it too, only she didn’t want to come, and you haven’t got the proper clothes. Arthur, if you take my advice, you’ll go into Lydd this very day and buy yourself an evening suit.”
“Ellen won’t let me. She says I’d look a clown in it.”
“Ellen’s getting very short. What’s happened to her these days?”
“It’s only that she likes gentlefolk and is fit to mix with them; and after all, Jo, I’m nothing but a pore common man.”
“I hope you don’t complain of her, Arthur?”
“Oh, no—I’ve no complaints—don’t you think it. And don’t you go saying anything to her, Jo.”
“Then what am I to do about it? I won’t have her troubling you, nor herself, neither. I tell you what I’ll do—look here!—I—I—” Joanna gave a loud sacrificial gulp—“I’ll make it middle-day dinner instead of late, and then you won’t have to wear evening dress, and Ellen can come and meet the Old Squire. She should ought to, seeing as he gave her a pearl locket when she was married. It won’t be near so fine as having it in the evening, but I don’t want neither her nor you to be upset—and I can always call it ‘lunch’ ...”
As the result of Joanna’s self-denial, Ellen and Arthur were able to meet Sir Harry Trevor and his sister at luncheon at Ansdore. The luncheon did not differ in any respect from the dinner as at first proposed. There was soup—much to Ellen’s annoyance, as Arthur had never been able to master the etiquette of its consumption—and a leg of mutton and roast fowls, and a large fig pudding, washed down with some really good wine, for Joanna had asked the wine-merchant at Rye uncompromisingly for his best—“I don’t mind what I pay so long as it’s that”—and had been served accordingly. Mene Tekel waited, with creaking stays and shoes, and loud breaths down the visitors’ necks as she thrust vegetable dishes and sauce-boats at perilous angles over their shoulders.
Ellen provided a piquant contrast to her surroundings. As she sat there in her soft grey dress, with her eyes cast down under her little town hat, with her quiet voice, and languid, noiseless movements, anything more unlike the average farmer’s wife of the district was difficult to imagine. Joanna felt annoyed with her for dressing up all quiet as a water-hen, but she could see that, in spite of it, her sacrifice in having her party transferred from the glamorous evening hour had been justified. Both the Old Squire and his sister were obviously interested in Ellen Alce—he in the naive unguarded way of the male, she more subtly and not without a dash of patronage.
Mrs. Williams always took an interest in any woman she thought downtrodden, as her intuition told her Ellen was by that coarse, hairy creature, Arthur Alce. She herself had disposed of an unsatisfactory husband with great decision and resource, and, perhaps as a thank-offering, had devoted the rest of her life to woman’s emancipation. She travelled about the country lecturing for a well-known suffrage society, and was bitterly disappointed in Joanna Godden because she expressed herself quite satisfied without the vote.