The crowd was very thick, and Alce offered her his arm.
“Hook on to me, or maybe I’ll lose you.”
Ellen did as he told her, and after a time he felt her weight increase.
“Reckon you’re middling tired.”
He looked down on her with a sudden pity—her little hand was like a kitten under his arm.
“Yes, I am rather tired.” It was no pretence—such an afternoon, without the stimulant and sustenance of enjoyment, was exhausting indeed.
“Then we’ll go home—reckon we’ve seen everything.”
He piloted her out of the crush, and they went to the George, where the trap was soon put to. Ellen sat drooping along the Straight Mile.
“Lord, but you’re hem tired,” said Alce, looking down at her.
“I’ve got a little headache—I had it when I started.”
“Then you shouldn’t ought to have come.”
“Joanna said I was to.”
“You should have told her about your head.”
“I did—but she said I must come all the same. I said I was sure you wouldn’t mind, but she wouldn’t let me off.”
“Joanna’s valiant for getting her own way. Still, it was hard on you, liddle girl, making you come—I shouldn’t have taken offence.”
“I know you wouldn’t. But Jo’s so masterful. She always wants me to enjoy myself in her way, and being strong, she doesn’t understand people who aren’t.”
“That’s so, I reckon. Still your sister’s a fine woman, Ellen—the best I’ve known.”
“I’m sure she is,” snapped Ellen.
“But she shouldn’t ought to have made you come this afternoon, since you were feeling poorly.”
“Don’t let out I said anything to you about it, Arthur—it might make her angry. Oh, don’t make her angry with me.”
During the next few weeks it seemed to Joanna that her sister was a little more alert. She went out more among the neighbours, and when Joanna’s friends came to see her, she no longer sulked remotely, but came into the parlour, and was willing to play the piano and talk and be entertaining. Indeed, once or twice when Joanna was busy she had sat with Arthur Alce after tea and made herself most agreeable—so he said.
The fact was that Ellen had a new interest in life. Those words sown casually in her thoughts at the show were bearing remarkable fruit. She had pondered them well, and weighed her chances, and come to the conclusion that it would be a fine and not impossible thing to win Arthur Alce from Joanna to herself.
She did not see why she should not be able to do so. She was prettier than her sister, younger, more accomplished, better educated. Alce on his side must be tired of wooing without response. When he saw there was a chance of Ellen, he would surely take it; and then—what a triumph! How people would talk and marvel when they saw Joanna Godden’s life-long admirer turn from her to her little sister! They would be forced to acknowledge Ellen as a superior and enchanting person. Of course there was the disadvantage that she did not particularly want Arthur Alce, but her schemings did not take her as far as matrimony.