She immediately changed her mind about the scheme, and going over to a side table where an ink-pot and pen reposed on a woolly mat, she prepared to enter her name in the little book.
“I’ll give him ten shillings,” she said to herself—“I’ll have given the most.”
Mr. Pratt watched her. He found something stimulating in the sight of her broad back and shoulders, her large presence had invigorated him—somehow he felt self-confident, as he had not felt for years, and he began to talk, first about the harmonium, and then about himself—he was a widower with three pale little children, whom he dragged up somehow on an income of two hundred a year.
Joanna was not listening. She was thinking to herself—“My cheque-book is in the drawer. If I wrote him a cheque, how grand it would look.”
Finally she opened the drawer and took the cheques out. After all, she could afford to be generous—she had nearly a hundred pounds in Lewes Old Bank, put aside without any scraping for future “improvements.” How much could she spare? A guinea—that would look handsome, among all the miserable half-crowns....
Mr. Pratt had seen the cheque-book, and a stutter came into his speech—
“So good of you, Miss Godden ... to help me ... encouraging, you know ... been to so many places, a tiring afternoon ... feel rewarded.”
She suddenly felt her throat grow tight; the queer compassion had come back. She saw him trotting forlornly round from farm to farm, begging small sums from people much better off than himself, receiving denials or grudging gifts ... his boots were all over dust, she had noticed them on her carpet. Her face flushed, as she suddenly dashed her pen into the ink, wrote out the cheque in her careful, half-educated hand, and gave it to him.
“There—that’ll save you tramping any further.”
She had written the cheque for the whole amount.
Mr. Pratt could not speak. He opened and shut his mouth like a fish. Then suddenly he began to gabble, he poured out thanks and assurances and deprecations in a stammering torrent. His gratitude overwhelmed Joanna, disgusted her. She lost her feeling of warmth and compassion—after all, what should she pity him for now that he had got what he wanted, and much more easily than he deserved?
“That’s all right, Mr. Pratt. I’m sorry I can’t wait any longer now. I’m making jam.”
She forgot his dusty boots and weary legs that had scarcely had time to rest, she forgot that she had meant to offer him a cup of tea.
“Good afternoon,” she said, as he rose, with apologies for keeping her.
She went with him to the door, snatched his hat off the peg and gave it to him, then crashed the door behind him, her cheeks burning with a queer kind of shame.