‘Yes, dear Joe, I cannot help myself. I could not do otherwise than come. I have not had the chance before, and I have been hungering for the sight of your face, and for a word of encouragement from your lips. I came straight away by the morning train, and have just arrived. Why have you not answered my letters?’
‘I sent you something.’
‘Yes, a lily of the valley, but not a word accompanied it.’
‘I sent you what I most valued, the first flower from the root Lady Grace gave me. I would not have parted with it to anyone else. I would not have picked it for myself, but—you have been kind to me, and—I thought I might never more have the chance of giving you anything.’
‘Why did you not send me a word?’
Joanna made no answer. She looked down, her pallor remained, and she, who was usually so collected, stood trembling before him. She tried to disguise her agitation by shuffling her hands to and fro on the counter.
‘Oh, Joe! you know that all is up between me and Lady Grace. We did not suit each other. We belonged to distinct worlds, she to the world that is passing away, I to the world that is coming on—though, I admit, but a poor specimen of that. Now that is all over, and I am free. I am changed from what I was. You knew me as an idler and a spendthrift, without aim and without energy. Now I am a clerk in a shipping office. I do not live on my father’s bounty. I have refused his allowance. I live on what I earn. I work now for my daily bread.’
She looked up and smiled, but there was intense sadness in her face that showed through her smile like a shower through a rainbow.
‘I get a hundred pounds a year, and I have fifty pounds per annum of my own, left me by my mother, independent of my father. May I take a chair, Joe?’
She nodded, and pointed to one. He drew it beside the counter, and seated himself; but she remained standing with her elbow on the desk, and her hand over her eyes, shading her face.
‘I am lodging with an old lady in Ebury Street,’ he went on, ‘and pay her a pound a week. I do not dine there, but at an eating-house, and that costs me about nine shillings a week, add a shilling for extras, and that comes to twenty-six pounds in the year. I think I can clothe myself on ten pounds, so