“Oh, Arthur—that’s middling kind of you, that’s neighbourly. But aren’t you going into Romney yourself?”
“I’ve nothing particular to go for. I don’t want to buy. If I went it ud only be to look at stock.”
“Well, I’d take it as a real kindness if you’d drive in Ellen to Rye on Wednesday. The show’s there only for the one day, and nobody else is going up from these parts save the Cobbs, and I don’t want Ellen to go along with them ’cos of that Tom Cobb what’s come back and up to no good.”
“I’m only too pleased to do anything for you, Joanna, as you know well.”
“Yes, I know it well. You’ve been a hem good neighbour to me, Arthur.”
“A neighbour ain’t so good as I’d like to be.”
“Oh, don’t you git started on that again—I thought you’d done.”
“I’ll never have done of that.”
Joanna looked vexed. Alce’s wooing had grown stale, and no longer gratified her. She could not help comparing his sandy-haired sedateness with her memories of Martin’s fire and youth—that dead sweetheart had made it impossible for her to look at a man who was not eager and virile; her admirers were now all, except for him, younger than herself. She liked his friendship, his society, his ready and unselfish support, but she could not bear to think of him as a suitor, and there was almost disdain in her eyes.
“I don’t like to hear such talk from you,” she said coldly. Then she remembered the silver tea-set which he had never taken back, and the offer he had made just now.... “Not but that you ain’t a good friend to me, Arthur—my best.”
A faint pink crept under his freckles and tan.
“Well, I reckon that should ought to be enough for me—to hear you say that.”
“I do say it. And now I’ll go and tell Ellen you’re taking her into Rye for the show. She’ll be a happy girl.”
Ellen was not quite so happy as her sister expected. Her sum of spectacular bliss stood in Shakespearean plays which she had seen, and in “Monsieur Beaucaire,” which she had not. A wild beast show with its inevitable accompaniment of dust and chokiness and noise would give her no pleasure at all, and the slight interest which had lain in the escort of the Vines with the amorous Stacey was now removed. She did not want Arthur Alce’s company. Her sister’s admirer struck her as a dull dog.
“I won’t trouble him,” she said. “I’m sure he doesn’t really want to go.”
“Reckon he does,” said Joanna. “He wants to go anywhere that pleases me.”
This did not help to reconcile Ellen.
“Well, I don’t want to be taken anywhere just to please you.”
“It pleases you too, don’t it?”
“No, it doesn’t. I don’t care twopence about fairs and shows, and Arthur Alce bores me.”
This double blasphemy temporarily deprived Joanna of speech.