“You have him to yours—whenever you can get him.”
“But then I’m a single woman, and he being a single man there’s no harm in it.”
“Do you think that a married woman should know no man but her husband?”
“What did she marry a husband for?”
“Really, Joanna ... however, there’s no use arguing with you. I’m sorry you’re annoyed at the gossip, but to keep out of the gossip here one would have to live like a cabbage. You haven’t exactly kept out of it yourself.”
“Have done, do, with telling me that. They only talk about me because I’m more go-ahead than any of ’em, and make more money. Anyone may talk about you that way and I shan’t mind. But to have it said at the Woolpack as you, a married woman, lets a man like Sir Harry be for ever hanging around your house ...”
“Are you jealous?” said Ellen softly. “Poor old Jo—I’m sorry if I’ve taken another of your men.”
Joanna opened her mouth and stared at her. At first she hardly understood, then, suddenly grasping what was in Ellen’s mind, she took in her breath for a torrential explanation of the whole matter. But the next minute she realized that this was hardly the moment to say anything which would prejudice her sister against Arthur Alce. If Ellen would value him more as a robbery, then let her persist in her delusion. The effort of silence was so great that Joanna became purple and apoplectic—with a wild, grabbing gesture she turned away, and burst out of the house into the drive, where her trap was waiting.
The next morning Mene Tekel brought fresh news from the Woolpack, and this time it was of a different quality, warranted to allay the seething of Joanna’s moral sense. Sir Harry Trevor had sold North Farthing to a retired bootmaker. He was going to the South of France for the winter, and was then coming back to his sister’s flat in London, while she went for a lecturing tour in the United States. The Woolpack was very definitely and minutely informed as to his doings, and had built its knowledge into the theory that he must have had some more money left him.
Joanna was delighted—she forgave Sir Harry, and Ellen too, which was a hard matter. None the less, as November approached through the showers and floods, she felt a little anxious lest he should delay his going or perhaps even revoke it. However, the first week of the month saw the arrival of the bootmaker from Deal, with two van-loads of furniture, and his wife and four grown-up daughters—all as ugly as roots, said the Woolpack. The Squire’s furniture was sold by auction at Dover, from which port his sailing was in due course guaranteed by credible eye-witnesses. Joanna once more breathed freely. No one could talk about him and Ellen now—that disgraceful scandal, which seemed to lower Ellen to the level of Marsh dairy-girls in trouble, and had about it too that strange luciferian flavour of “the sins of Society,” that scandal had been killed, and its dead body taken away in the Dover mail.