Her sister seemed glad enough, and they went upstairs together. But even the sight of her old bedroom, where the last year of her maidenhood had been spent, even the sight of the new curtains chastening its exuberance with their dim austerity, did not dissolve Ellen’s terrible, cold sparkle—her frozen fire.
“Good night,” said Joanna.
“Good night,” said Ellen, “may I have some hot water?”
“I’ll tell the gal,” said Joanna tamely, and went out.
When she was alone in her own room, she seemed to come to herself. She felt ashamed of having been so baffled by Ellen, of having received her on those terms. She could not bear to think of Ellen living on in the house, so terribly at an advantage. If she let things stay as they were, she was tacitly acknowledging some indefinite superiority which her sister had won through sin. All the time she was saying nothing she felt that Ellen was saying in her heart—“I have been away to foreign parts, I have been loved by a man I don’t belong to, I have Seen Life, I have stopped at hotels, I have met people of a kind you haven’t even spoken to....” That was what Ellen was saying, instead of what Joanna thought she ought to say, which was—“I’m no better then a dairy girl in trouble, than Martha Tilden whom you sacked when I was a youngster, and it’s unaccountable good of you to have me home.”
Joanna was not the kind to waste her emotions in the sphere of thought. She burst out of the room, and nearly knocked over Mene Tekel, who was on her way to Ellen with a jug of hot water.
“Give that to me,” she said, and went to her sister’s door, at which she was still sufficiently demoralized to knock.
“Come in,” said Ellen.
“I’ve brought you your hot water.”
“Thank you very much—I hope it hasn’t been a trouble.”
Ellen was standing by the bed in a pretty lilac silk wrapper, her hair tucked away under a little lace cap. Joanna wore her dressing-gown of turkey-red flannel, and her hair hung down her back in two great rough plaits. For a moment she stared disapprovingly at her sister, whom she thought looked “French,” then she suddenly felt ashamed of herself and her ugly, shapeless coverings. This made her angry, and she burst out—
“Ellen Alce, I want a word with you.”
“Sit down, Jo,” said Ellen sweetly.
Joanna flounced on to the rosy, slippery chintz of Ellen’s sofa. Ellen sat down on the bed.
“What do you want to say to me?”
“An unaccountable lot of things.”
“Must they all be said to-night? I’m very sleepy.”
“Well, you must just about keep awake. I can’t let it stay over any longer. Here you’ve been back five hour, and not a word passed between us.”
“On the contrary, we have had some intelligent conversation for the first time in our lives.”