A Violet Season
saying Alice had a more pleasing voice, and Avery had agreed. Finally he had asked for some medicine, and when Mrs. Pruitt had come to administer it, she’d discovered it was nearly gone. Alice had offered to walk into the village to refill his order.
    In the pharmacy, she ran into Joe Jacobs. The pharmacist had just filled her order and handed her the paper bag when she turned and nearly bumped into him, standing close behind her.
    He said he was picking up something for his mother, but would she wait a moment, and he would accompany her to the Pruitts’? “Of course,” she said calmly, though she felt like leaping in the aisles among the apothecary jars.
    It was a late-summer day; the sun had lost some of its power, though it was still warm and inviting. Alice walked as slowly as she could without dallying, and Mr. Jacobs matched her pace. She had never had the true attentions of a young man. Avery had once caught her by surprise at the Pruitts’ back door and said a few words—she couldn’t remember what, she’d been so flustered—then pecked at her like a chicken, and she’d ducked and run, so his kiss had bumped on her shoulder. At a church picnic the year before, a younger boy in whom she wasn’t at all interested had monopolized her conversation for half an hour before Oliver had rescued her. And for a few days at school once, a boy a year ahead of her had passed her some notes. She hadn’t replied, and the notes had stopped.
    Mr. Jacobs’s attention was entirely different. He was not an awkward boy, but a man. He spoke easily with other men, thoughhe was young, and he had left Underwood to go to college. Maybe he was merely being polite. But a polite young man would have asked how she and her family were. He would not have offered to accompany her all the way to the Pruitts’, would he? What would Mrs. Pruitt say if she saw? Would she tell Alice’s mother? Alice didn’t care; for the first time she felt she was becoming a young woman herself. She had told her mother she didn’t want to marry, but if Mr. Jacobs were a possibility . . .
    They made small talk about the weather and news of the Trans-Mississippi Exposition, of the health of their families, of Avery, and of Alan Harris, who had returned from Tampa but was restless to leave again. Then she asked about Princeton, and he told her about the campus green, where two treasured cannons were nearly fully buried to keep them from being stolen by students from a neighboring college. They passed the hardware store, and in the edge of her vision, Alice saw her neighbor Mr. Aiken loading his wagon. He saw them, too, but she knew he wouldn’t say anything to her father, with whom he wasn’t friendly on account of an old dispute.
    “There must be scads of smart young ladies in Princeton,” Alice said as they passed the last of the village shops and headed into the open countryside. Mr. Jacobs looked at her in a funny way, his forehead creased, as if she had misunderstood everything about him. The way he looked at her made her feel so foolish that she would have liked to have bolted into the Ellerbys’ field.
    “There are a few,” he said. “The daughters of professors. A bunch of snobs, if you’ll excuse me. Some people don’t appreciate the privileges they have, and they hold them over others.”
    Alice knew plenty about that, but she also knew better than to say so.
    “If you’re asking whether I socialized at college, the answer is no,” he added, and Alice felt a sickening heat flash in her head.
    “I’m terribly sorry,” she said. “I never meant to pry.”
    “Not at all,” he said quickly. “I didn’t mean to say you were prying. Not at all!” He stopped walking and reached toward her, then drew back again. Two of the Ellerbys’ cows stood at the fence, chewing their cuds and watching with disinterest. The flies that followed them buzzed in the quiet.
    “I’m making a mess of this conversation,” Mr. Jacobs said, and he

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