In the circumstances she did not press invitations upon him, she had no time to waste on men who did not appreciate her as a woman—which the Squire, in spite of his susceptibility, obviously failed to do. From June to August she met him only once, and that was at Ellen’s. Neither did she see very much of Ellen that summer—her life was too full of hard work, as a substitute for economy.
Curiously enough next time she went to see her sister Sir Harry was there again.
“Hullo! I always seem to be meeting you here,” she said—“and nowhere else—you never come to see me now.”
Sir Harry grinned.
“You’re always so mortal busy, Jo—I’d feel in your way. Now this little woman never seems to have much to do. You’re a lazy little thing, Ellen—I don’t believe you ever move off the sofa, except to the piano.”
Joanna was surprised to see him on such familiar terms with her sister—“Ellen,” indeed! He’d no right to call her that.
“Mrs. Alce hasn’t nothing beyond her housework to do—and any woman worth her keep ’ull get shut of that in the morning. Now I’ve got everything on my hands—and I’ve no good, kind Arthur to look after me neither,” and Joanna beamed on Arthur Alce as he stirred his tea at the end of the table.
“And jolly thankful you are that you haven’t,” said the Squire. “Own up, Joanna, and say that the last thing you’d want in life would be someone to look after you.”
“Well, it strikes me,” said Joanna, “as most of the people I meet want looking after themselves, and it ’ud be just about waste for any of ’em to start looking after me.”
Arthur Alce unexpectedly murmured something that sounded like “Hear, hear.”
When Joanna left, he brought round her trap, as the saucy-eyed young groom was having a day off in Rye.
“How’ve your turnips done?” he asked.
“Not so good as last year, but the wurzels are fine.”
“Mine might be doing better”—he stood fumbling with a trace-buckle.
“Has that come loose?” asked Joanna.
“Nun-no. I hope your little lady liked her oats.”
“She looks in good heart—watch her tugging. You’ve undone that buckle, Arthur.”
“So I have—I was just fidgeting.”
He fastened the strap again, his fingers moving clumsily and slowly. It struck her that he was trying to gain time, that he wanted to tell her something.
“Anything the matter, Arthur?”
“Oh, it struck me you looked worried.”
“What should I be worried about?”
“There’s a lot of things you might be worried about. What did you tell me about your wurzels?”
“They’re not so bad.”
“Then I can’t see as there’s any need for you to look glum.”
“No more there ain’t,” said Arthur in the voice of a man making a desperate decision.