"Sorry you're takin' it all so bad," he said with a certain Grandfatherly sincerity. "All of us show sadness in different ways. And if you'd ever like to talk about it, maybe I can help."
"I'll talk about it to Jesus, thank you very much, Mr Priest. You may have heard of him." Arabella replied, feeling pretty clever at that remark.
If she knew what thin ice she was skating on, she might have been a little more circumspect in her comments. But Priest gave her one more chance to see reason, or at least, his version of reason.
"You know, some men are just not suited for being married. Now take this Potee fella. Look how he lashed out as his poor, upright, religious wife he had. You saw how she came in here and begged him to leave the Star Dust and come home with her. It was a pitiful sight. Why I had to wipe a tear off my cheek. He chased her out of here with harsh words, evil words, and you know what they say; Idle hands are the devil's workshop and his first tool is a vicious tongue."
"I don't believe you know how to cry, Mr Priest." she replied primly "Though I grant you probably know all about the Devil!" Oh, she thought she was pretty smart with that answer.
"And what did that poor woman do? She went back to their place, a place she'd dreamed of making a life in, and hung herself straight away." He bent a little closer to her and spoke confidentially. "Seems to me, there's only one person responsible for that tragedy, and it ain't him," he pointed to Fortner at the bar, and it ain't you, and it ain't me. It's that man sittin' on his porch with his head in his hands and trying to squeeze the liquor out of his brain. --- that's who."
He wasn't trying to persuade her now, he was telling her. there was something in his voice: a cold confidence, that made her own self confidence slip a little. She carried on playing the jolly tune, but she could feel a cold grip of fear start to close around her heart.
He got even more confidential. "And I'd be careful who you start makin' accusations about. Be real careful. Real careful."
She actually gasped, and that wasn't the only thing that escaped her, as she realised that the nasty old snake was actually threatening her. She immediately wanted to jump up and run and hide behind the bar where Mr Flandry would protect her, or run upstairs and get Caroline to fight her corner or go fetch Mammy Cookie from the kitchen; but she realised now that she couldn't do that to them: Priest was Fortner's friend, more than that, she had always suspected: they were in cahoots. She couldn't put any of her three protectors in that position, of having to choose between their employer and her.
Coward that she was, she immediately backed down: and a pathetic sight it was too, she was nearly grovelling on her knees to the mean old man. "Oh! A...A...I wasn't saying nothin' about no-one, honest I wasn't ... and I won't, I mean, I... I'm never ever gonna talk about this to anyone else ever again, mister Priest. You don't have to worry about that! And, 'sides, I 'm just a silly little girl, no one cares what I say anyway." she assured him, eyes saucer wide and brimming with fear.
She was weak, she knew it, she was nothing but a big scardy-cat coward: and she'd just added a new item to the long list of things she was scared of: guns, cows, horses, spiders, stinging nettles and Hiram Priest.