time. I tell you this is an easy place. There is no missus. There ought to be proper-ly, but the young lady is swallowed up by the folks at the Court, so she is never here. All the better for us. Master is a good sort of a man—very soft. Lets us have our own way, and believes all the crams we tell. As soon as you’re ready the master ’ll want to see you.’
‘I am ready now.’
‘And,’ continued the servant, ‘I’ll bet you a shilling I know what he’ll say to y’.’
‘I never bet. Shillings are too hardly earned to be cast away.’
‘I didn’t mean naught, really. I’ll tell y’ exactly what master ’ll say. He’ll begin like the minister in church: “O come, let us worship, and fall down.” He always does with every lady who comes into service here for the first time. There is his bell. I reckon he won’t think you can be old enough, judging by your looks. I shouldn’t believe you was twenty, if you swore it till black in the face.’
Joanna was shown into the drawing-room, where Mr. Worthivale stood on the mat, with his back to the fire, moving his feet uneasily. He disliked an interview with servants, not from pride, but from consciousness that he was helpless in their hands—a defenceless fort.
‘Good day,’ he said; ‘please shut the door. Miss Worthivale is not here at present, so I must tell you what you have to do. Your name is Joanna?’
‘And your age is twenty?’
‘So I am told, sir. I don’t remember my birth.’
‘I suppose not. Of course not. You are highly recommended to me. Mrs. Delany is the wife of Colonel Delany, of the Royal Engineers, I presume. One cannot make too sure. I turned up the name in the Directory. I understand you have suffered a domestic affliction. I see you wear a black gown. I am sorry. I hope you have not lost a very near relative—not a father or a mother?’ He spoke in a kind, sympathetic tone.
‘My father is dead, sir,’ she answered, looking down and slightly colouring.
‘Dear me—how sad! and your poor mother is alone in the world—a rough world for a fresh-bleeding heart to battle with. Have you brothers and sisters?’
Joanna answered, in a low voice, ‘None, sir.’