Thanks to Ellen’s contrivance and to the progress of Joanna’s own ambition—rising out of its fulfilment in the sphere of the material into the sphere of style and manners—the sisters now lived the lives of two well-to-do ladies. They had late dinner every night—only soup and meat and pudding, still definitely neither supper nor high tea. Joanna changed for it into smart, stiff silk blouses, with a great deal of lace and guipure about them, while Ellen wore a rest-gown of drifting black charmeuse. Mene Tekel was promoted from the dairy to be Ansdore’s first parlourmaid, and wore a cap and apron, and waited at table. Ellen would have liked to keep Mene Tekel in her place and engage a smart town girl, whose hands were not the colour of beetroots and whose breathing could not be heard through a closed door; but Joanna stood firm—Mene had been her faithful servant for more than seven years, and it wasn’t right that she should have a girl from the town promoted over her. Besides, Joanna did not like town girls—with town speech that rebuked her own, and white hands that made her want to put her own large brown ones under the table.
Early the next year Mr. Pratt faded out. He could not be said to have done anything so dramatic as to die, though the green marsh-turf of Brodnyx churchyard was broken to make him a bed, and the little bell rocked in the bosom of the drunken Victorian widow who was Brodnyx church steeple, sending a forlorn note out over the Marsh. Various aunts in various stages of resigned poverty bore off his family to separate destinations, and the great Rectory house which had for so long mocked his two hundred a year, stood empty, waiting to swallow up its next victim.
Only in Joanna Godden’s breast did any stir remain. For her at least the fading out of Mr. Pratt had been drama, the final scene of her importance; for it was now her task to appoint his successor in the living of Brodnyx with Pedlinge. Ever since she had found out that she could not get rid of Mr. Pratt she had been in terror lest this crowning triumph might be denied her, and the largeness of her funeral wreath and the lavishness of her mourning—extinguishing all the relations in their dyed blacks—had testified to the warmth of her gratitude to the late rector for so considerately dying.
She felt exceedingly important, and the feeling was increased by the applications she received for the living. Clergymen wrote from different parts of the country; they told her that they were orthodox—as if she had imagined a clergyman could be otherwise—that they were acceptable preachers, that they were good with Boy Scouts. One or two she interviewed and disliked, because they had bad teeth or large families—one or two turned the tables on her and refused to have anything to do with a living encumbered by so large a rectory and so small an endowment. Joanna felt insulted, though she was not responsible for either. She resolved not to consider any applicants, but to make her own choice outside their ranks. This was a difficult matter, for her sphere was hardly clerical, and she knew no clergy except those on the Marsh. None of these she liked, because they were for the most part elderly and went about on bicycles—also she wanted to dazzle her society with a new importation.