“See, you’ve got new curtains—eighteenpence a yard ... and that’s mother’s text—’Inasmuch....’ and I’ve bought a new soap-dish at Godfrey’s—it doesn’t quite go with the basin, but they’ve both got roses on ’em ... and you won’t mind there being a few of my gowns in the wardrobe—only the skirts—I’ve got room for the bodies in my drawers ... that’s the basket armchair out of the dining-room, with a new cover that Mene Tekel fixed for it ... the clock’s out of the spare room—it don’t go, but it looks fine on the mantelpiece.... Say, duckie, are you pleased?—are you pleased with your old Jo?”
“Oh, Joanna ... thank you,” said Ellen.
“Well, I’ll have to be leaving you now—that gal’s got a rabbit pie in the oven for our tea, and I must go and have a look at her crust. You unpack and clean yourself—and be careful not to spoil anything.”
Supper that night was rather a quiet meal. Something about Ellen drove Joanna back into her old sense of estrangement. Her sister made her think of a lily on a thundery day. She wore a clinging dress of dull green stuff, which sheathed her delicate figure like a lily bract—her throat rose out of it like a lily stalk, and her face, with its small features and soft skin, was the face of a white flower. About her clung a dim atmosphere of the languid and exotic, like the lily’s scent which is so unlike the lily.
“Ellen,” broke out Joanna, with a glance down at her own high, tight bosom, “don’t you ever wear stays?”
“No. Miss Collins and the gym mistress both say it’s unhealthy.”
“Unhealthy! And don’t they never wear none themselves?”
“Never. They look much better without—besides, small waists are going out of fashion.”
“But ... Ellen ... it ain’t seemly—to show the natural shape of your body as you’re doing.”
“I’ve been told my figure’s a very good one.”
“And whoever dared make such a remark to you?”
“It was a compliment.”
“I don’t call it any compliment to say such things to a young girl. Besides, what right have you to go showing what you was meant to hide?”
“I’m not showing anything I was meant to hide. My figure isn’t nearly so pronounced as yours—if I had your figure, I couldn’t wear this sort of frock.”
“My figure is as God made it”—which it certainly was not—“and I was brought up to be the shape of a woman, in proper stays, and not the shape of a heathen statue. I’d be ashamed for any of the folk around here to see you like that—and if Arthur Alce, or any other man, came in, I’d either have to send you out or wrap the table-cover round you.”
Ellen took refuge in a haughty silence, and Joanna began to feel uneasy and depressed. She thought that Ellen was “fast.” Was this what she had learned at school—to flout the standards of her home?