They had reached the first crossing of the railway line, and if he was going back to North Farthing he should turn here. He could easily make an excuse—no man really wanted to eat two Christmas dinners—but his flutter was gone, and he found an attraction in the communal meal to which she was inviting him. He would like to see the old folk at their feast, the old folk who had been born on the Marsh, who had grown wrinkled with its sun and reddened with its wind and bent with their labours in its damp soil. There would be Joanna too—he would get a close glimpse of her. It was true that he would be pulling the cord between them a little tighter, but already she was drawing him and he was coming willingly. To-day he had found in her an unsuspected streak of goodness, a sound, sweet core which he had not looked for under his paradox of softness and brutality.... It would be worth while committing himself with Joanna Godden.
Dinner on Christmas Day was always in the kitchen at Ansdore. When Joanna reached home with Martin, the two tables, set end to end, were laid—with newly ironed cloths and newly polished knives, but with the second-best china only, since many of the guests were clumsy. Joanna wished there had been time to get out the best china, but there was not.
Ellen came flying to meet them, in a white serge frock tied with a red sash.
“Arthur Alce has come, Jo—we’re all waiting. Is Mr. Trevor coming too?” and she put her head on one side, looking up at him through her long fringe.
“Yes, duckie. Mr. Trevor’s dropped in to taste our turkey and plum pudding—to see if they ain’t better than his own to-night.”
“Is he going to have another turkey and plum pudding to-night? How greedy!”
“Be quiet, you sassy little cat”—and Joanna’s hand swooped, missing Ellen’s head only by the sudden duck she gave it.
“Leave me alone, Joanna—you might keep your temper just for Christmas Day.”
“I won’t have you sass strangers.”
“I wasn’t sassing.”
Martin felt scared.
“I hope you don’t mean me by the stranger,” he said, taking up lightness as a weapon, “I think I know you well enough to be sassed—not that I call that sassing.”
“Well, it’s good of you not to mind,” said Joanna, “personally I’ve great ideas of manners, and Ellen’s brought back some queer ones from her school, though others she’s learned are beautiful. Fancy, she never sat down to dinner without a serviette.”
“Never,” said Ellen emphatically.
Martin appeared suitably impressed. He thought Ellen a pretty little thing, strangely exotic beside her sister.