In front of Joanna a servant-girl had just set down a huge black teapot, which had been stewing on the hob ever since the funeral party had been sighted crossing the railway line half a mile off. Round it were two concentric rings of teacups—good old Worcester china, except for a common three which had been added for number’s sake, and which Joanna carefully bestowed upon herself, Ellen, and Arthur Alce. Ellen had stopped crying at the sight of the cakes and jam and pots of “relish” which stretched down the table in orderly lines, so the meal proceeded according to the decent conventions of silence. Nobody spoke, except to offer some eatable to somebody else. Joanna saw that no cup or plate was empty. She ought really to have delegated this duty to another, being presumably too closely wrapped in grief to think of anybody’s appetite but her own, but Joanna never delegated anything, and her “A little more tea, Mrs. Vine?”—“Another of these cakes, Mr. Huxtable?”—“Just a little dash of relish, Mr. Pratt?” were constantly breaking the stillness, and calling attention to her as she sat behind the teapot, with her plumed hat still a little on one side.
She was emphatically what men call a “fine woman,” with her firm, white neck, her broad shoulders, her deep bosom and strong waist; she was tall, too, with large, useful hands and feet. Her face was brown and slightly freckled, with a warm colour on the cheeks; the features were strong, but any impression of heaviness was at once dispelled by a pair of eager, living blue eyes. Big jet earrings dangled from her ears, being matched by the double chain of beads that hung over her crape-frilled bodice. Indeed, with her plumes, her earrings, her necklace, her frills, though all were of the decent and respectable black, she faintly shocked the opinion of Walland Marsh, otherwise disposed in pity to be lenient to Joanna Godden and her ways.
Owing to the absence of conversation, tea was not as long drawn-out as might have been expected from the appetites. Besides, everyone was in a hurry to be finished and hear the reading of old Thomas Godden’s will. Already several interesting rumours were afloat, notably one that he had left Ansdore to Joanna only on condition that she married Arthur Alce within the year. “She’s a mare that’s never been praeaperly broken in, and she wants a strong hand to do it.” Thus unchoicely Furnese of Misleham had expressed the wish that fathered such a thought.
So at the first possible moment after the last munch and loud swallow with which old Grandfather Vine, who was unfortunately the slowest as well as the largest eater, announced repletion, all the chairs were pushed back on the drugget and a row of properly impassive faces confronted Mr. Huxtable the lawyer as he took his stand by the window. Only Joanna remained sitting at the table, her warm blue eyes seeming to reflect the evening’s light, her arm round little Ellen, who leaned against her lap.