“But I tell you, you can never marry me. You’re a stupid man, Arthur, who won’t see things as they are. You go hankering after whom you can’t get, and all the time you might get someone who’s hankering after you. It’s a lamentable waste, I say, and I’ll never be pleased if you don’t ask Ellen. It ain’t often I ask you to do anything to please me, and this is no hard thing. Ellen’s a fine match—a pretty girl, and clever, and well-taught—she’ll play the piano to your friends. And I’ll see as she has a bit of money with her. You’ll do well for yourself by taking her, and I tell you, Arthur, I’m sick and tired of your dangling after me.”
Joanna had many more conversations with Arthur Alce, and in the end bore down his objections. She used her tongue to such good purpose that by next Sunday he had come to see that Ellen wanted him, and that for him to marry her would be the best thing for everyone—Joanna, Ellen and himself. After all, it wasn’t as if he had the slightest chance of Joanna—she had made that abundantly clear, and his devotion did not feed on hope so much as on a stale content in being famous throughout three marshes as her rejected suitor. Perhaps it was not amiss that her sudden call should stir him into a more active and vital service.
In the simplicity of his heart, he saw nothing outrageous in her demands. She was troubled and anxious about Ellen, and had a right to expect him to help her solve this problem in the best way that had occurred to her. As for Ellen herself, now his attention had been called to the matter, he could see that she admired him and sought him out. Why she should do so was as much a mystery as ever—he could not think why so soft and dainty and beautiful a creature should want to marry a homely chap like himself. But he did not doubt the facts, and when, at the beginning of the second week, he proposed to her, he was much less surprised at her acceptance than she was herself.
Ellen had never meant to accept him—all she had wanted had been the mere proclaimable fact of his surrender; but during the last weeks the focus of her plans had shifted—they had come to mean more than the gratification of her vanity. The denial of what she sought, the dragging of her schemes, the growing sense of hopelessness, had made her see just exactly how much she wanted. She would really like to marry Alce—the slight physical antipathy with which she had started had now disappeared, and she felt that she would not object to him as a lover. He was, moreover, an excellent match—better than any young Vines or Southlands or Furneses; as his wife she would be important and well-to-do, her triumph would be sealed, open and celebrated.... She would moreover be free. That was the strong hidden growth that had heaved up her flat little plans of a mere victory in tattle—if she married she would be her own mistress, free for ever of Joanna’s