She plunged into an orgy of preparation. Mrs. Tolhurst and Mene Tekel and the new girl from Windpumps who now reinforced the household were nearly driven off their legs. Ellen spared the wretched man much in the way of feather-beds—just one down mattress would be enough, town people weren’t used to sleeping on feathers. She also chastened the scheme of decoration, and substituted fresh flowers for the pampas grasses which Joanna thought the noblest adornment possible for a spare bedroom. On the whole Ellen behaved very well about Albert Hill—she worked her best to give him a favourable impression of Ansdore as a household, and when he came she saw that he and her sister were as much alone together as possible.
“He isn’t at all the sort of brother-in-law I’d like you to have, my dear,” she said to Tip, “but if you’d seen some of the men Joanna’s taken up with you’d realize it might have been much worse. I’m told she once had a most hectic romance with her own shepherd ... she’s frightfully impressionable, you know.”
“Is she really?” said Tip in his slow, well-bred voice. “I shouldn’t have thought that.”
“No, because—dear old Jo! it’s so funny—she’s quite without art. But she’s always been frightfully keen on men, though she never could attract the right sort; and for some reason or other—to do with the farm, I suppose—she’s never been keen on marriage. Now lately I’ve been thinking she really ought to marry—lately she’s been getting quite queer—detraquee—and I do think she ought to settle down.”
“But Hill’s much younger than she is.”
“Joanna would never care for anyone older. She’s always liked boys—it’s because she wants to be sure of being boss, I suppose. I know for a fact she’s turned down nearly half a dozen good, respectable, well-to-do farmers of her own age or older than herself. And yet I’ve sometimes felt nervous about her and Peter Crouch, the groom.... Oh, I tell you, Jo’s queer, and I’ll be thankful if she marries Bertie Hill, even though he is off the mark. After all, Tip”—and Ellen looked charming—“Jo and I aren’t real ladies, you know.”