“Because I wouldn’t let him make it—I’ve got some pride if you haven’t.”
“Your pride doesn’t stop you taking what ought to have been mine.”
“’Ought to’.... I never heard such words. Not that I’m pleased he should make it all over to me, but it ain’t my doing.”
Ellen looked at her fixedly out of her eyes which were like the shallow floods.
“Are you quite sure? Are you quite sure, Joanna, that you honestly played a sister’s part by me while I was away?”
“What d’you mean?”
“I mean, Arthur seems to have got a lot fonder of you while I was away than he—er—seemed to be before.”
Joanna gaped at her.
“Of course it was only natural,” continued Ellen smoothly—“I know I treated him badly—but don’t you think you needn’t have taken advantage of that?”
“Well, I’m beat ... look here, Ellen ... that man was mine from the first, and I gave him over to you, and I never took him back nor wanted him, neither.”
“How generous of you, Jo, to have ‘given him over’ to me.”
A little maddening smile twisted the corners of her mouth, and Joanna remembered that now Arthur was dead and there was no hope of Ellen going back to him she need not spare her secret.
“Yes, I gave him to you,” she said bluntly—“I saw you wanted him, and I didn’t want him myself, so I said to him ’Arthur, look here, you take her’—and he said to me—’I’d sooner have you, Jo’—but I said ’you won’t have me even if you wait till the moon’s cheese, so there’s no good hoping for that. You take the little sister and please me’—and he said ‘I’ll do it to please you, Jo.’ That’s the very thing that happened, and I’m sorry it happened now—and I never told you before, because I thought it ud put you against him, and I wanted you to go back to him, being his wife; but now he’s dead, and you may as well know, seeing the upstart notions you’ve got.”
She looked fiercely at Ellen, to watch the effect of the blow, but was disconcerted to see that the little maddening smile still lingered. There were dimples at the flexing corners of her sister’s mouth, and now they were little wells of disbelieving laughter. Ellen did not believe her—she had told her long-guarded secret and her sister did not believe it. She thought it just something Joanna had made up to salve her pride—and nothing would ever make her believe it, for she was a woman who had been loved and knew that she was well worth loving.
Both Ellen and Joanna were a little afraid that Arthur’s treatment of his widow might disestablish her in public opinion. People would think that she must have behaved unaccountable badly to be served out like that. But the effects were not so disastrous as might have been expected. Ellen, poor and forlorn, in her graceful weeds, without complaining or resentful words, soon won the neighbours’ compassion.