Then as the evening wore on, and the mists crept up from the White Kemp Sewer to muffle the windows of Ansdore and make Joanna’s bones twinge and ache, she knew that she had come down too late. These young people had had time enough to settle their hearts’ business in a little less than a week, and Joanna God-dam could not scare them apart. Of course there was nothing to fear—this fine, shy man would make no assault on Ellen Alce’s frailty, it was merely a case of Ellen Alce becoming Ellen Ernley, if he could be persuaded to overlook her “past”—a matter which Joanna thought important and doubtful. But the elder sister’s heart twinged and ached as much as her bones. There was not only the thought that she might lose Ellen once more and have to go back to her lonely living ... her heart was sick to think that again love had come under her roof and had not visited her. Love ... love ... for Ellen—no more for Joanna Godden. Perhaps now it was too late. She was getting on, past thirty-seven—romance never came as late as that on Walland Marsh, unless occasionally to widows. Then, since it was too late, why did she so passionately long for it?—Why had not her heart grown old with her years?
During the next few weeks Joanna watched the young romance grow and sweeten. Ellen was becoming almost girlish again, or rather, girlish as she had never been. The curves of her mouth grew softer and her voice lost its even tones—she had moments of languor and moments of a queer lightness. Great and Little Ansdore were now on very good terms, and during that winter there was an exchange of dinners and bridge. Joanna could now, as she expressed it, give a dinner-party with the best of ’em. Nothing more splendid could be imagined than Joanna Godden sitting at the head of her table, wearing her Folkestone-made gown of apricot charmeuse, adapted to her modesty by means of some rich gold lace; Ellen had induced her to bind her hair with a gold ribbon, and from her ears great gold ear-rings hung nearly to her shoulders, giving the usual barbaric touch to her stateliness. Ellen, in contrast, wore iris-tinted gowns that displayed nacreous arms and shoulders, and her hair passed in great dark shining licks over her little unadorned ears.
Joanna was annoyed because Ellen never told her anything about herself and Tip Ernley. She wanted to know in what declared relation they stood to each other. She hoped Ellen was being straight with him, as she was obviously not being straight with her. She did not think they were definitely engaged—surely they would have let her know that. Perhaps he was waiting till he had found some satisfactory job and could afford to keep a wife. She told herself angrily that if only they would confide in her, she would help the young pair ... they were spoiling their own chances by keeping her out of their secrets. It never struck her that Ernley would rather not be beholden to her, whatever Ellen might feel in the matter.