"'T would set the quidnuncs discussing to which of the Greek goddesses they belonged," remarked Fownes. Then he was sorry he had said it, for Miss Meredith promptly unrolled her sleeves; not because in her secret heart she did not like the speech, but because of a consciousness that Charles was noticing what the Greek goddesses generally lack. A low-cut frock was almost the unvarying dress of the ladies, there was nothing wrong in the display of an ankle, and elbow sleeves were very much the vogue, but to bare the arms any higher was an immodesty not permitted to those who were then commonly termed the "bon ton."
This addition to the working staff promptly produced an order from Sukey for Janice to assume the duty of stirring a pot just placed over the fire, "while I 'se goes down cellar an' cars a shelf for them jellies to set on. Keep a stirrin', honey, so 's it won't burn," was her parting injunction.
No sooner was the cook out of hearing than Charles spoke: "For two days," he said in a low voice, "I have tried to get word with you. Won't you come to the stable when I am there?"
"Are you going to crush that sugar?" asked Miss Meredith.
"Art going to come to the stable?" calmly questioned Charles.
"Give me the pestle!" said Janice, severely.
"Because if you won't," continued the groom, "I shall have to say what I want now."
"I prefer not to hear it," Janice announced, moving from the fire.
"You must keep on stirring, or 't will burn, Miss Janice," the man reminded her, taking a mean advantage of the situation.
Janice came back and resumed her task, but she said, "I don't choose to listen."
'T is for thy father's sake I ask it."
"How?" demanded the girl, looking up with sudden interest.
"I went to the village t' other night," replied the man, "to drill—" Then he checked himself in evident disconcertion.
"Drill?" asked Janice. "What drill?"
"Let us call it quadrille, since that is not the material part," said Charles. "What is to the point is that after—after doing what took me, I stayed to help in Guy Fawkes' fun on the green."
"Well?" questioned the girl, encouragingly.
"The frolickers had some empty tar barrels and an effigy of the Pope, and they gave him and a copy of the Boston Port Bill each a coat of tar and leaves, and then burned them."
"What fun!" cried Janice, ceasing to stir in her interest. "I wish mommy would let me go. She says 't is unbecoming in the gentility, but I don't see why being well born should be a reason for not having as good a time as—"
"As servants?" interrupted Fownes, hotly, as if her words stung him.
"I'm afraid, Charles," reproved Janice, assuming again a severe manner, "that you have a very bad temper."
Perhaps the man might have retorted, but instead he let the anger die from his face, as he fixed his eyes on the floor. "I have, Miss Janice," he acknowledged sadly, after a moment's pause, "and 't is the curse of my life."
"You should discipline it," advised Miss Meredith, sagely. "When I lose my temper, I always read a chapter in the Bible," she added, with a decidedly "holier than thou" in her manner.
"How many times hast thou read the good book through, Miss Janice?" asked Fownes, smiling, and Miss Meredith's virtuous pose became suddenly an uncomfortable one to the young lady.
"You were to tell me something about Mr. Meredith," she said stiffly.
"After burning the Pope and the bill, 't was suggested by some to empty the pot of tar on the fire. But objection was made, because
"Because?" questioned Janice.
"Someone said 't would be needed shortly to properly season green wood, and therefore must not be wasted."
"You don't think they—?" cried Janice, in alarm.
The servant nodded his head. "The feeling against the squire is far deeper than you suspect. 'T will find vent in some violence, I fear, unless he yield to public sentiment."
"He'll never truckle to the country licks and clouted shoons of Brunswick," asserted Janice, proudly.
"'T will fare the worse for him. 'T is as sensible to run counter to public opinion as 't is to cut roads over mountains."
"'T is worse still to be a coward," cried Janice, contemptuously. "I fear, Charles, you are very mean-spirited."
Fownes shrugged his shoulders. "As a servant should be," he muttered bitterly.
"Even a servant can do what is right," answered the girl.
"'T is not a question of right, 't is one of expediency," replied the bondsman. "A year at court, Miss Janice, would teach you that in this world 't is of monstrous importance to know when to bow."
"What do you know of court?" exclaimed Janice.
"Very little," confessed the man. "But I know it teaches one good lesson in life,—that of submission,—and an important thing 't is to learn."
"I only bow to those whom I know to be my superiors," said Janice, with her head held very erect.
"'T is an easy way for you to avoid bowing," asserted the groom, smiling.
Again Janice sought a change of subject by saying, "Think you that is why we are being spied upon?"
"Spied?" questioned the bondsman.
"Last week dadda thought he saw a face one evening at the parlour window, and two nights ago I looked up suddenly and saw—Well, mommy said 't was only vapours, but I know I saw something."
The servant turned his face away from Janice, and coughed. Then he replied, "Perhaps 't was some one watching you. Didst make no attempt to find him?"
"Dadda went to the window both times, but could see nothing."
"He probably had time to hide behind the shrubs," surmised Charles. "I shall set myself to watching, and I'll warrant to catch the villain at it if he tries it again." From the savageness with which he spoke, one would have inferred that he was bitterly enraged at any one spying through the parlour window on Miss Meredith's evening hours.
"I wish you would," solicited Janice. "For if it happened again, I don't know what I should do. Mommy insisted it was n't a ghost, and scolded me for screaming; but all the same, it gave me a dreadful turn. I did n't go to sleep for hours."
"I am sorry it frightened you," said the servant, and then after a moment's hesitation he continued, "'T was I, and if I had thought for a moment to scare you—"
"You!" cried Janice. "What were you doing there?"
The man looked her in the eyes while he replied in a low voice, "Looking at paradise, Miss Janice."
"Janice Meredith," said her mother's voice, sternly, "thou good-for-nothing! Thou'st let the syrup burn, and the smell is all over the house. Charles, what dost thou mean by loafing indoors at this hour of the day? Go about thy work."
And paradise dissolved into a pot of burnt syrup.
IX PARADISE AND ELSEWHERE
While Charles was within hearing, Mrs. Meredith continued to scold Janice about the burnt syrup, but this subject was ended with his exit. "I'm ashamed that a daughter of mine should allow a servant to be so familiar," Mrs. Meredith began anew. "'T is a shame on us all, Janice. Hast thou no idea of what is decent and befitting to a girl of thy station?"
"He was n't familiar," cried Janice, angrily and proudly, "and you should know that if he had been I—he was telling me—"
"Yes," cried her mother, "tell me what he was saying about paradise? Dost think me a nizey, child, not to know what men mean when they talk about paradise?"
Janice's cheeks reddened, and she replied hotly, "If men talked to you about paradise, why should n't they talk to me? I'm sure 't is a pleasant change after the parson's everlasting and eternal talk of an everlasting and eternal—"
"Don't thee dare say it!" interrupted Mrs. Meredith. "Thou fallen, sin-eaten child! Go to thy room and stay there for the rest of the day. 'T is all of a piece that thou shouldst disgrace us by unseemly conduct with a stable-boy. Fine talk 't will make for the tavern."
The injustice and yet possible truth in this speech was too much for Janice to hear, and without an attempt at reply, she burst into a storm of tears and fled to her room.
Deprived of a listener, Mrs. Meredith sought the squire, and very much astonished him by a prediction that, "Thy daughter, Mr. Meredith, is going to bring disgrace on the family."
"What's to do now?" cried the parent.
"A pretty to do, indeed," his wife assured him. "Dost want her running off some fine night with thy groom?"
"Tush, Matilda!" responded Mr. Meredith. "'T is impossible."
"Just what my parents said when thou camest a-courting."
"I was no redemptioner."
"'T was none the less a step-down for me," replied Mrs. Meredith, calmly. "And I had far less levity than—"
"Nay, Matilda, she often reminds me very—"
"Lambert, I never was light! Or at least never after I sat under Dr. Edwards and had a call. The quicker we marry Janice to Mr. McClave, the better 't will be for her."
"Now, pox me!" cried the squire, "if I'll give my lass to be made the drudge of another woman's children."
"'T is the very discipline she needs," retorted the wife. "But for my checking her a moment ago I believe she'd have spoken disrespectfully of hell!"
"Small wonder!" muttered her husband. "Is 't not enough to ye Presbyterians to doom one to everlasting torment in the future life without making this life as bad?"
"'T is the way to be saved," replied Mrs. Meredith. "As Mr. McClave said to Janice shortly since, 'Be assured that doing the unpleasant thing is the surest road to salvation, for tho' it should not find grace in the eyes of a righteously angry God, yet having been done from no carnal and sinful craving of the flesh, it cannot increase his anger towards you.' Ah, Lambert, that man has the true gift."
"Since he's so damned set on being uncarnal," snapped the squire, "let him go without Janice."
"And have her running off with an indentured servant, as Anne Loughton did?"
"She'll do nothing of the kind. If ye want a husband for the lass, let her take Phil."
"Tush! There are acres enough to pay the old squire's debts three times over. She'd bring Phil enough ready money to clear it all, and 't is rich mellow land that will double in value, give it time."
"I tell thee her head 's full of this bond-servant. The two were in the kitchen just now, talking about paradise, and I know not what other foolishness."
"That" said Mr. Meredith, with a grin of enjoyment, "sounds like true Presbyterian doctrine. The Westminster Assembly seem to have left paradise out of the creation."
"Such flippancy is shameful in one of thy years, Mr. Meredith," said his wife, sternly, "and canst have but one ending."
"That is all any of us can have, Patty," replied the squire, genially.
Mrs. Meredith went to the door, but before leaving the room, she said, still with a stern, set face, though with a break in her voice, "Is 't not enough that my four babies are enduring everlasting torment, but my husband and daughter must go the same way?"
"There, there, Matilda!" cried the husband. "'T was said in jest only and was nothing more than lip music. Come back—" the speech ended there as a door at a distance banged. "Now she'll have a cry all by herself," groaned the squire. "'T is a strange thing she took it so bravely when the road was rough, yet now, when 't is easy pulling, she lets it fret and gall her."
Then Mr. Meredith looked into his fire, and saw another young girl, a little more serious than Janice, perhaps, but still gay-hearted and loved by many. He saw her making a stolen match with himself; passed in review the long years of alienation from her family, the struggle with poverty, and, saddest of all, the row of little gravestones which told of the burial of the best of her youth. He saw the day finally when, a worn, saddened woman, she at last was in the possession of wealth, to find in it no pleasure, yet to turn eagerly, and apparently with comfort, to the teachings of that strange combination of fire and logic, Jonathan Edwards. He recalled the two sermons during Edwards's brief term as president of Nassau Hall, which moved him so little, yet which had convinced Mrs. Meredith that her dead babies had been doomed to eternal punishment and had made her the stern, unyielding woman she was. The squire was too hearty an animal, and lived too much in the open air, to be given to introspective thought, but he shook his head. "A strange warp and woof we weave of the skein," he sighed, "that sorrow for the dead should harden us to the living." Mr. Meredith rose, went upstairs, and rapped at a door. Getting no reply, after a repetition of the knock, he went in.
A glance revealed what at first sight looked like a crumpled heap of clothes upon the bed, but after more careful scrutiny the mass was found to have a head, very much buried between two pillows, and the due quantity of arms and legs. Walking to the bed, the squire put his hand on the bundle.
"There, lass," he said, "'t is nought to make such a pother about."
"Oh, dadda," moaned Janice, "I am the most unhappy girl that ever lived."
It is needless to say after this remark that Miss Meredith's knowledge of the world was not of the largest, and the squire, with no very great range of experience, smiled a little as he said—
"Then 't will not make you more miserable to wed the parson?"
"Dadda!" exclaimed the girl, rolling over quickly, to get a sight of his countenance. When she found him smiling, the anxious look on the still red and tear-stained face melted away, and she laughed merrily. "Think of the life I'd give the good man! How I would wherrit him! He 'd have to give up his church to have time enough to preach to me." Apparently the deep woe alluded to the moment before was forgotten.
"I've no manner of doubt he'd enjoy the task," declared the father, with evident pride. "Ah, Jan, many a man would enter the ministry, if he might be ordained parson of ye."
"The only parson I want is a father confessor," said Janice, sitting up and giving him a kiss.
"Then what 's this maggot your mother has got in her head about ye and Charles and paradise?" laughed her father.
"Indeed, dadda," protested the girl, eagerly, "mommy was most unjust. I was to stir some syrup, and Charles came into the kitchen and would talk to me, and as I could n't leave the pot, I had to listen, and then—well
"I thought as much!" cried the squire, heartily, when Janice paused. "Where the syrup is, there'll find ye the flies. But we'll have no horse-fly buzzing about ye. My fine gentleman shall be taught where he belongs, if it takes the whip to do it."
"No, dadda," exclaimed Janice. "He spoke but to warn me of danger to you. He says there 's preparation to tar and feather you unless you—you do something."
"Foo!" sniffed the squire. "Let them snarl. I'll show them I'm not a man to be driven by tag, long tail, and bobby."
"But Charles—" began the girl.
"Ay, Charles," interrupted Mr. Meredith. "I've no doubt he's one of 'em. 'T is always the latest importations take the hottest part against the gentry."
"Nay, dadda, I think he—"
"Mark me, that's what takes the tyke to the village so often."
"He said 't was to drill he went."
"To drill?" questioned the squire. "What meant he by that?"
"I asked him, and he said 't was quadrille. Dost think he meant dancing or cards?"
"'T is in keeping that he should be a dancing master or a card-sharper," asserted Mr. Meredith. "No wonder 't is a disordered land when 't is used as a catchall for every man not wanted in England. We'll soon put a finish to his night-walking."
"I don't think he's a villain, dadda, and he certainly meant kindly in warning us."
"To make favour by tale-bearing, no doubt."
"I'm sure he'd not a thought of it," declared Janice, with an unconscious eagerness which made the squire knit his brows.
"Ye speak warmly, child," he said. "I trust your mother be not justified in her suspicion."
The girl, who meanwhile had sprung off the bed, drew herself up proudly. "Mommy is altogether wrong," she replied. "I'd never descend so low."
"I said as much," responded the squire, gleefully.
"A likely idea, indeed!" exclaimed Janice. "As if I'd have aught to do with a groom! No, I never could shame the family by that."
"Wilt give me your word to that, Jan?" asked the squire.
"Yes," cried the girl, and then roguishly added, "Why, dadda, I'd as soon, yes, sooner, marry old Belza, who at least is a prince in his own country, than see a Byllynge marry a bond-servant."
X A COLONIAL CHRISTMAS
For some weeks following the pledge of Janice, the life at Greenwood became as healthily monotonous as of yore. Both Mr. and Mrs. Meredith spoke so sharply to both Sukey and Charles of his loitering about the kitchen that his visits, save at meal times, entirely ceased. The squire went further and ordered him to put an end to his trips to the village, but the man took this command in sullen silence, and was often absent.
One circumstance, however, very materially lessened the possible encounters between the bond-servant and the maiden. This was no less than the setting in of the winter snows, which put a termination to all the girl's outdoor life, excepting the attendance at the double church services on Sundays, which Mrs. Meredith never permitted to be neglected. From the window Janice sometimes saw the groom playing in the drifts with Clarion, but that was almost the extent of her knowledge of his doings. It is to be confessed that she eagerly longed to join them or, at least, to have a like sport with the dog. Eighteenth-century etiquette, however, neither countenanced such conduct in the quality, nor, in fact, clothed them for it.
A point worth noting at this time was connected with one window of the parlour. Each afternoon as night shut down, it was Peg's duty to close all the blinds, for colonial windows not being of the tightest, every additional barricade to Boreas was welcome, and this the servant did with exemplary care. But every evening after tea, Janice always walked to a particular window and, opening the shutter, looked out for a moment, as if to see what the night promised, before she took her seat at her tambour frame or sewing. Sometimes one of her parents called attention to the fact that she had not quite closed the shutters again, and she always remedied the oversight at once. Otherwise she never looked at the window during the whole evening, glance where she might. Presumably she still remembered the fright her putative ghost had occasioned her, and chose not to run the chance of another sight of him. Almost invariably, however, in the morning she blew on the frost upon the window of her own room and having rubbed clear a spot, looked below, much as if she suspected ghosts could leave tracks in the snow. In her behalf it is only fair to say that the girls of that generation were so shut in as far as regarded society or knowledge of men that they let their imaginations question and wander in a manner difficult now to conceive. At certain ages the two sexes are very much interested in each other, and if this interest is not satisfied objectively, it will be subjectively.
Snow, if a jailer, was likewise a defence, and apparently cooled for a time the heat of the little community against the squire. Even the Rev. Mr. McClave's flame of love and love of flame were modified by the depth of the drifts he must struggle through, in order to discourse on eternal torment while gazing at earthly paradise. Janice became convinced that the powers of darkness no longer had singled her out as their particular prey, and in the peaceful isolation of the winter her woes, when she thought of them, underwent a change of grammatical tense which suggested that they had become things of the past.
One of her tormenting factors was not to be so treated. Philemon alone made nothing of the change of season, riding the nine miles between his home and Greenwood by daylight or by moonlight, as if his feeling for the girl not merely warmed but lighted the devious path between the drifts. Yet it was not to make love he came; for he sat a silent, awkward figure when once within doors, speaking readily enough in response to the elders, but practically inarticulate whenever called upon to reply to Janice. Her bland unconsciousness was a barrier far worse than the snow; and never dreaming that he was momentarily declaring his love for her in a manner far stronger than words, he believed her wholly ignorant of what he felt, and stayed for hours at a time, longing helplessly for a turn of events which should make it possible for him to speak.
Philemon was thus engaged or disengaged one December morning when Peg entered the parlour where the family were sitting as close to the fire as the intense glow of the hickory embers would allow, and handing Janice a letter with an air of some importance, remarked, "Charles he ask me give you dat." Then, colonial servants being prone to familiarity, and negro slaves doubly so, Peg rested her weight on one foot, and waited to learn what this unusual event might portend. All present instantly fixed their eyes upon Janice, but had they not done so it is probable that she would have coloured much as she did, for the girl was enough interested and enough frightened to be quite unconscious of the eyes upon her.
"A letter for thee, lass!" exclaimed the squire. "Let 's have the bowels of it."
The necessity for that very thing was what made the occurrence so alarming to Janice, for her woman's intuition had at once suggested, the moment she had seen the bold hand-writing of the superscription, that it could be from none other than Evatt, and she had as quickly surmised that her father and mother would insist upon sight of the missive. Unaware of what it might contain, she sat with red cheeks, not daring to break the seal.
"Hast got the jingle brains, child?" asked her mother, sharply, "that thou dost nothing but stare at it?"
Janice laid the letter in her lap, saying, "'T will wait till I finish this row." It was certainly a hard fate which forced her to delay the opening of the first letter she had ever received.
"'T will nothing of the sort," said her mother, reaching out for the paper. "Art minded to read it on the sly, miss? There shall be no letters read by stealth. Give it me."
"Oh, mommy," begged the girl, desperately, "I'll show it to you, but—oh—let me read it first, oh, please!"
"I think 't is best not," replied her mother. "Thy anxiety has an ill look to it, Janice."
The girl handed the letter dutifully, and with an anxious attention watched her mother break it open, all pleasure in the novelty of the occurrence quite overtopped by dread of what was to come.
"What nonsense is this?" was Mrs. Meredith's anything but encouraging exclamation. Then she read out—
"'T is unworthy of you, and of your acceptance, but 't is the fairest gift I could think of, and the best that I could do. If you will but put it in the frame you have, it may seem more befitting a token of the feelings that inspired it."
Janice, unable to restrain her curiosity, rose and peered over her mother's shoulder. From that vantage point she ejaculated, "Oh, how beautiful she is!"
What she looked at was an unset miniature of a young girl, with a wealth of darkest brown hair, powdered to a gray, and a little straight nose with just a suggestion of a tilt to it, giving the mignon face an expression of pride that the rest of the countenance by no means aided. For the remaining features, the mouth was still that of a child, the short upper lip projecting markedly over the nether one, producing not so much a pouty look as one of innocence; the eyes were brilliant black, or at least were shadowed to look it by the long lashes, and the black eyebrows were slender and delicately arched upon a low forehead.
"Art a nizey, Janice," cried her mother, "not to know thine own face?"
"Mommy!" exclaimed the girl. "Is—am I as pretty as that?"
"'T is vastly flattered," said her mother, quickly. "I should scarce know it."
"Nay, Matilda," dissented the squire, who was now also gazing at the miniature. "'T is a good phiz of our lass, and but does her justice. Who ever sent it ye, Jan?"
"I suppose 't was Mr. Evatt," confessed Janice.
"Let's have sight of the wrapper," said the father. "Nay, Jan. This has been in no post-rider's bag or 't would bear the marks."
"Peg, tell Charles to come here," ordered Mrs. Meredith, and after a five minutes spent by the group in various surmises, the bond-servant, followed by the still attentive Peg, entered the room.
"Didst find this letter at the tavern?" demanded the squire.
The groom looked at the wrapper held out to him, and replied, "Mayhaps."
"And what took ye there against my orders?"
Charles shrugged his shoulders, and then smiled. "Ask Hennion," he said.
"What means he, Phil?" questioned the squire.
"Now you've been an' told the whole thing," exclaimed Philemon, looking very much alarmed.
"Not I," replied the servant. "'T is for you to tell it, man, if 't is to be told."
"Have done with such mingle-mangle talk," ordered Mr. Meredith, fretfully. "Is 't not enough to have French gibberish in the world, without—"
"Charles," interrupted Mrs. Meredith, "who gave thee this letter?"
"Ask Miss Meredith," Fownes responded, again smiling.
"It must be Mr. Evatt," said Janice. Then as the bond-servant turned sharply and looked at her, she became conscious that she was colouring. "I wish there was no such thing as a blush," she moaned to herself,—a wish in which no one seeing Miss Meredith would have joined.
"'T was not from Mr. Evatt," denied the servant.
Without time for thought, Janice blurted out, "Then 't is from you?" and the groom nodded his head.
"What nonsense is this?" cried Mr. Meredith. "Dost mean to say 't is from ye? Whence came the picture?"
"I was the limner," replied Charles.
"What clanker have we here?" exclaimed the squire.
"'T is no lie, Mr. Meredith," answered the servant. "In England I've drawn many a face, and 't was even said in jest that I might be a poor devil of an artist if ever I quitted the ser—quitted service."
"And where got ye the colours?"
"When I went to Princeton with the shoats I found Mr. Peale painting Dr. Witherspoon, and he gave me the paints and the ivory."
"Ye'll say I suppose too that ye wrote this," demanded the squire, indicating the letter.
"I'll not deny it."
"Though ye could not sign the covenant?"
Fownes once more shrugged his shoulders. "'T is a fool would sign a bond," he asserted.
"Better a fool than a knave," retorted Mr. Meredith, angered by Charles' manner. "Janice, give the rogue back the letter and picture. No daughter of Lambert Meredith accepts gifts from her father's bond-servants."
The man flushed, while evidently struggling to control his temper, and Janice, both in pity for him, as well as in desire for possession of the picture, for gifts were rare indeed in those days, begged—
"Oh, dadda, mayn't I keep it?"
"Mr. Meredith," said Charles, speaking with evident repression, "the present was given only with the respect—" he hesitated as if for words and then continued—"the respect a slave might owe his—his better. Surely on this day it should be accepted in the same spirit."
"What day mean ye?" asked Mr. Meredith.
The servant glanced at each face with surprise on his own. When he read a question in all, he asked in turn, "Hast forgotten 't is Christmas?"
Mrs. Meredith, who was still holding the portrait, dropped it on the floor, as if it were in some manner dangerous. "Christmas!" she cried. "Janice, don't thee dare touch the—"
"Oh, mommy, please," beseeched the girl.
"Take it away, Charles," ordered Mrs. Meredith. "And never let me hear of thy being the devil's deputy again. We'll have no papish mummery at Greenwood."
The servant sullenly stooped, picked up the slip of ivory without a word, and turned to leave the room. But as he reached the door, Philemon found tongue.
"I'll trade that 'ere for the fowlin'-piece you set such store by," he offered.
The bondsman turned in the doorway and spoke bitterly. "This is to be got for no mess of pottage, if it is scorned," he said.
"I don't scorn—" began Janice, but her father broke in there.
"Give it me, fellow!" ordered the squire. "No bond-servant shall have my daughter's portrait."
An angry look came into the man's eyes as he faced his master. "Come and take it, then," he challenged savagely, moving a step forward,—an action which for some reason impelled the squire to take a step backward.
"Oh, dadda, don't," cried Janice, anxiously. "Charles, you would n't!"
Fownes turned to her, with the threat gone from his face and attitude. "There's my devil's temper again, Miss Janice," said he, in explanation and apology.
"Please go away," implored the girl, and the man went to the door. As he turned to close it, Janice said, "'T was very pretty, and—and—thank you, just the same."
The formalism of bygone generations was no doubt conducive to respectful manners, but not to confidential relations, and her parents knew so little of their daughter's nature as never to dream that they had occasioned the first suggestion of tenderness for the opposite sex the young girl's heart had ever felt. And love's flame is superior to physical law in that, the less ventilation it has, the more fiercely it burns.
XI "'T IS AN ILL WIND THAT BLOWS NOBODY GOOD"
The next ripple in the Greenwood life was due to more material circumstances, being inaugurated by the receipt of the Governor's writ, convening the Assembly of New Jersey. A trivial movement of a petty pawn on the chess-board of general politics, it nevertheless was of distinct importance in several respects to the Meredith family. Apparently the call meant only a few weeks' attendance of the squire's at Burlington, in the performance of legislative duties, and Janice's going with him to make a return visit to the Drinkers at Trenton. These, however, were the simplest aspects of the summons, and action by the citizens of Middlesex County quickly injected a more serious element into the programme.
The earliest evidence of this was the summoning by the Committee of Observation and Correspondence of a gathering to "instruct" the county representatives how they should vote on the question as to indorsing or disapproving the measures of the recent Congress. The notice of the meeting was read aloud by the Rev. Mr. McClave before his morning sermon one Sunday, and then he preached long and warmly from 2 Timothy, ii. 25,—"Instructing those that oppose themselves," —the purport of his argument being the duty of the whole community to join hands in resisting the enemies of the land. The preacher knew he was directly antagonising the views of his wealthiest parishioner and the father of his would-be wife, but that fact only served to make him speak the more forcefully and fervently. However hard and stern the old Presbyterian faith was, its upholders had the merit of knowing what they believed, and of stating that belief without flinch or waver.
As he sat and listened, not a little of the squire's old Madeira found its way into his face, and no sooner were the family seated in the sleigh than the wine seemed to find expression in his tongue as well.
"'T is the last time I set foot in your church, Mrs. Meredith," he declared, loudly enough to make it evident that he desired those filing out of the doors to hear. "Never before have I—"
"Hold thy tongue, Lambert!" interrupted Mrs. Meredith, in a low voice. "Dost think to make a scene on the Sabbath?"
"Then let your parson hold his," retorted Mr. Meredith, but like a well-trained husband, in so low a voice as to be inaudible to all but the occupants of the sleigh. "Ge wug, Joggles! What is the land coming to, when such doctrines are preached in the pulpits; when those in authority are told 't is their duty to do what the riff-raff think best? As well let their brats and bunters tell us what to do. They'll not force me to attend their meeting, nor to yield a jot."
In fulfilment of his assertion, the squire sat quietly at home on the afternoon that the popular opinion of the county sought to voice itself, nodding his head over a volume of "Hale's Compleat Body of Husbandry." But as night drew near he was roused from his nap by the riding up of Squire Hennion and Philemon. Let it be confessed that, despite Mr. Meredith's contempt for what he styled the "mobocracy," his first question concerned the meeting.
"A pooty mess yer've made of it, Meredith," growled Mr. Hennion.
"I!" cried the squire, indignantly. "'T is naught I had to do with it."
"An' 't is thet 'ere keepin' away dun the harm," scolded the elder Hennion. "Swamp it, yer let the hotheads control! Had all like yer but attended, they 'd never hev bin able to carry some of them 'ere resolushuns. On mor'n one resolve a single vote would hev bin a negative."
"Pooh!" sneered the squire. "Sit down and warm thy feet while thee cools thy head, man. Ye'll not get me to believe that one vote only was needed to prevent 'em indorsing the Congress association."
"Sartin they approved the Congress doins, nemine contradicente, as they wuz baound ter do since all aginst kep away, but—"
"Dost mean to say ye voted for it?" demanded Mr. Meredith.
Squire Hennion's long, shrewd face slightly broadened as he smiled. "I wuz jest stepped over ter the ordinary ter git a nipperkin of ale when thet ere vote wuz took."
"Who let the hotheads control, then?" jerked out Mr. Meredith.
"'T ain't no sort of use ter hev my neebours set agin me."
"And ye'll vote at Burlington as they tell ye?" fumed the squire.
"I'm rayther fearsome my rheumatiz will keep me ter hum this winter weather. I've had some mortal bad twinges naow an' agin."
"Now damn me!" swore the squire, rising and pacing the room with angry strides. "And ye come here to blame me for neglecting a chance to check 'em."
"I duz," responded Hennion. "If I go ter Assembly, 't won't prevent theer votin' fer what they wants. But if yer had attended thet 'ere meetin', we could hev stopped them from votin' ter git up a militia company an' ter buy twenty barrels—"
"Dost mean to say they voted rebellion?" roared Mr. Meredith, halting in his angry stride.
"It duz hev a squint toward it, theer ain't no denyin'. But I reckon it wuz baound ter come, vote ay or vote nay. Fer nigh three months all the young fellers hev been drillin' pooty reg'lar."
"Oh!" spoke up Janice. "Then that 's what Charles meant when he said 't was drill took him to the village."
"What?" demanded the squire. "My bond-servant?"
"Ay. 'T is he duz the trainin', so Phil tells me."
Mr. Meredith opened the door into the hall, and bawled, "Peg!" Without waiting to give the maid time to answer the summons he roared the name again, and continued to fairly bellow it until the appearance of the girl, whom he then ordered to "find Charles and send him here." Slightly relieved, he stamped back to the fire, muttering to himself in his ire.
A pause for a moment ensued, and then the elder Hennion spoke: "Waal, Meredith, hev yer rumpus with yer servant, but fust off let me say the say ez me and Phil come fer."
"And what 's that?"
"I rayther guess yer know areddy," continued the father, while the son's face became of the colour of the hickory embers. "My boy 's in a mighty stew about yer gal, but he can't git the pluck ter tell her; so seem' he needed some help an since I'd come ez far ez Brunswick, says I we'll make one ride of it, an' over we comes ter tell yer fair an' open what he's hangin' araound fer."
Another red face was hurriedly concealed by its owner stooping over her tambour-frame, and Janice stitched away as if nothing else were worth a second thought. It may be noted, however, that, as a preliminary to further work the next morning, a number of stitches had to be removed.
"Ho, ho!" laughed the squire, heartily, and slapping Phil on the shoulder. "A shy bird, but a sly bird, eh? Oh, no! Mr. Fox thought the old dogs did n 't know that he wanted little Miss Duck."
Already in an agony of embarrassment, this speech reduced Phil to still more desperate straits. He could look at his father only in a kind of dumb appeal, and that individual, seeing his son 's helplessness, spoke again.
"I'd hev left the youngsters ter snook araound till they wuz able ter fix things by themselves," Mr. Hennion explained. "But the times is gittin' so troublous thet I want ter see Phil sottled, an' not rampin' araound as young fellers will when they hain't got nuthin' ter keep them hum nights. An' so I reckon thet if it ever is ter be, the sooner the better. Yer gal won't be the wus off, hevin' three men ter look aout fer her, if it duz come on ter blow."
"Well said!" answered the squire. "What say ye, Matilda?"
"Oh, dadda," came an appeal from the tambour-frame, "I don't want to marry. I want to stay at home with—"
"Be quiet, child," spoke up her mother, "and keep thine opinion to thyself till asked. We know best what is for thy good."
"He, he, he!" snickered the elder Hennion. "Gals hain't changed much since I wuz a-courtin'. They allus make aout ter be desprit set agin the fellers an' mortal daown on marryin', but, lordy me! if the men held off the hussies 'ud do the chasm'."
"Thee knows, Lambert," remarked his better half, "that I think Janice would get more discipline and greater godliness in—"
"I tell ye he sha'n't have her," broke in the squire. "No man who preaches against me shall have my daughter; no, not if 't were Saint Paul himself."
"For her eventual good I—"
"Damn her eventual—"
"I fear 't will come to that."
"Well, well, Patty, perhaps it will," acceded the squire. "But since 't is settled already by foreordination, let the lass have a good time before it comes. Wouldst rather marry the parson than Phil, Janice?"
"I don 't want to marry any one," cried the girl, beginning to sob.
"A stiff-necked child thou art," said her mother, sternly. "Dost hear me?"
"Yes, mommy," responded a woful voice.
"And dost intend to be obedient?"
"Yes, mommy," sobbed the girl.
"Then if thee'll not give her to the parson, Lambert, 't is best that she marry Philemon. She needs a husband to rule and chasten her."
"Then 't is a bargain, Hennion," said Mr. Meredith, offering a hand each to father and son.
"Yer see, Phil, it 's ez I told yer," cried the elder. "Naow hev dun with yer stand-offishness an' buss the gal. Thet 'ere is the way ter please them."
Philemon faltered, glancing from one to another, for Janice was bent low over her work and was obviously weeping,— facts by no means likely to give courage to one who needed that element as much as did the suitor.
"A noodle!" sniggered Mr. Hennion. "'T ain't ter be wondered at thet she don't take ter yer. The jades always snotter first off but they 'd snivel worse if they wuz left spinsters—eh, squire?"
Thus encouraged, Phil shambled across the room and put his hand on the shoulder of the girl. At the first touch Janice gave a cry of desperation, and springing to her feet she fled toward the hall, her eyes still so full of tears that she did not see that something more than the door intervened to prevent her escape. In consequence she came violently in contact with Charles, and though to all appearance he caught her in his arms only to save her from falling, Janice, even in her despair, was conscious that there was more than mere physical support. To the girl it seemed as if an ally had risen to her need, and that the moment's tender clasp of his arms was a pledge of aid to a sore-stricken fugitive.
"How now!" cried the squire. "Hast been listening, fellow?"
"I did not like to interrupt," said Charles, drily.
"I sent for ye, because I'm told ye've been inciting rebellion against the king."
The man smiled. "'T is little inciting they need," he answered.
"Is 't true that ye've been drilling them?" demanded the squire.
"Ask Phil Hennion," replied the servant.
"What mean ye?"
"If 't is wrong for me to drill, is 't not wrong for him to be drilled?"
"How?" once more roared the squire. "Dost mean to say that Phil has been drilling along with the other villains?"
"Naow, naow, Meredith," spoke up the elder Hennion. "Boys will be boys, yer know, an'—"
"That's enough," cried the father. "I'll have no man at Greenwood who takes arms against our good king. Is there no loyalty left in the land?"
"Naow look here, Meredith," Mr. Hennion argued. "Theer ain't no occasion fer such consarned highty-tighty airs. Yer can't keep boys from bein' high-sperited. What 's more—"
"High-spirited!" snapped the squire. "Is that the name ye give rebellion, Justice Hennion?"
"Thet 'ere is jest what I wuz a-comin' ter, Meredith," went on his fellow-justice. "Fust off I wuz hot agin his consarnin' himself, an' tried ter hold him back, but, lordy me! young blood duz love fightin', an' with all the young fellows possest, an' all the gals admirin', I might ez well a-tried ter hold a young steer. So, says I, 't is the hand of Providence, fer no man kin tell ez what 's ahead of us. There ain't no good takin' risks, an' so I'll side in with the one side, an' let Phil side in with t' other, an' then whatsomever comes, 't will make no differ ter us. Naow, ef the gal kin come it over Phil ter quit trainin', all well an' good, an'—"
"I'll tell ye what I think of ye," cried Mr. Meredith. "That ye're a precious knave, and Phil 's a precious fool, and I want no more of either of ye at Greenwood."
"Now, squire," began Phil, "'t ain't—"
"Don't attempt to argue!" roared Mr. Meredith. "I say the thing is ended. Get out of my house, the pair of ye!" and with this parting remark, the speaker flung from the room, and a moment later the door of his office banged with such force that the whole house shook. Both the elder and younger Hennion stayed for some time, and each made an attempt to see the squire, but he refused obstinately to have aught to do with them, and they were finally forced to ride away.
Though many men were anxiously watching the gathering storm, a girl of sixteen laid her head on her pillow that night, deeply thankful that British regiments were mustering at Boston, and that America, accepting this as an answer to her appeal, was quietly making ready to argue the dispute with something more potent than petitions and associations.
XII A BABE IN THE WOOD
The following morning the squire went to the stable, and after soundly rating Charles for his share in the belligerent preparation of Brunswick, ordered him, under penalty of a flogging, to cease not only from exercising the would-be soldiers, but from all absences from the estate "without my order or permission." The man took the tirade as usual with an evident contempt more irritating than less passive action, speaking for the first time when at the end of the monologue the master demanded:—
"Speak out, fellow, and say if ye intend to do as ye are ordered, for if not, over ye go with me this morning to the sitting of the justices."
"I'm not the man to take a whipping, that I warn you," was the response.
"Ye dare threaten, do ye?" cried the master. "Saddle Jumper and Daisy, and have 'em at the door after breakfast. One rascal shall be quickly taught what rebellion ends in."
Fuming, the squire went to his morning meal, at which he announced his intention to ride to Brunswick and the purport of the trip.
"Oh, dadda, he—please don't!" begged Janice.
"And why not, child?" demanded her mother.
"Because he—oh! he is n't like most bondsmen and—"
"What did I tell thee, Lambert?" said Mrs. Meredith.
"Nonsense, Matilda," snorted the squire. "The lass gave me her word for 't—"
"Word!" ejaculated the wife. "What 's a word or anything else when—Since thee 's sent Phil off, the quicker thee comes to my mind, and gives her to the parson, the better."
"What mean ye by objecting to this fellow being flogged, Jan?" asked the father.
Poor Janice, torn between the two difficulties, subsided, and meekly responded, "I—Well, I don't like to have things whipped, dadda. But if Charles deserves it, of course he— he—'t is right."
"There!" said Mr. Meredith, "ye see the lass has the sense of it."
The subject was dropped, but after breakfast, as the crunch of the horse's feet sounded, Janice left the spinet for a moment to look out of the window, and it was a very doleful and pitiful face she took back to her task five minutes later.
When master and man drew rein in front of the Brunswick Court-house, it was obvious to the least heedful that something unusual was astir. Although the snow lay deep in front of the building and a keen nip was in the air, the larger part of the male population of the village was gathered on the green. Despite the chill, some sat upon the steps of the building, others bestowed themselves on the stocks in front of it, and still more stood about in groups, stamping their feet or swinging their arms, clearly too chilled to assume more restful attitudes, yet not willing to desert to the more comfortable firesides within doors.
Ordering the bond-servant to hitch the two horses in the meeting-house shed and then to come to the court-room, the squire made his way between the loafers on the steps, and attempted to open the door, only to discover that the padlock was still fast in the staple.
"How now, Mr. Constable?" he exclaimed, turning, and thus for the first time becoming conscious that every eye was upon him. "What means this?"
The constable, who was one of those seated on the stocks, removed a straw from between his lips, spat at the pillory post, much as if he were shooting at a mark, and remarked, "I calkerlate yer waan't at the meetin', squire?"
"Not I," averred Mr. Meredith.
"Yer see," explained the constable, "they voted that there should n't be no more of the king's law till we wuz more sartin of the king's justice, an' that any feller as opposed that ere resolution wuz ter be held an enemy ter his country an' treated as such. That ain't the persition I'm ambeetious ter hold, an' so I did n't open the court-house."
"What?" gasped Mr. Meredith. "Are ye all crazy?"
"Mebbe we be," spoke up one of the listeners, "but we ain't so crazy by a long sight as him as issued that." The speaker pointed at the king's proclamation, and then, either to prove his contempt for the symbol of monarchy, or else to show the constable how much better shot he was, he neatly squirted a mouthful of tobacco juice full upon the royal arms.
"And where are the other justices?" demanded the squire, looking about as if in search of assistance.
"The old squire an' the paason wuz at the meetin', an' I guess they knew it 'ud only be wastin' time to attend this pertiklar sittin' of the court."
"Belza take them!" cried the squire. "They're a pair of cotswold lions, and I'll tell it them to their faces," he added, alluding to a humorous expression of the day for a sheep. "Here I have a rebellious servant, and I'd like to know how I'm to get warrant to flog him, if there is to be no court. Dost mean to have no law in the land?"
"I guess," retorted Bagby, "that if the king won't regard the law, he can't expect the rest of us to, noways. What 's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and if there ever was a gander it's him,"—a mot which produced a hearty laugh from the crowd.
"As justice of the peace I order ye to open this door, constable," called the squire.
The constable pulled out a bunch of keys and tossed it in the snow, saying, "'T ain't fer me to say there sha'n't be no sittin' of the court, an' if yer so set on tryin', why, try."
The squire deliberately went down two steps to get the keys, but the remaining six he took at one tumble, having received a push from one of the loafers back of him which sent his heavy body sprawling in the snow, his whip, hat, and, worst of all, his wig, flying in different directions. In a moment he had risen, cleared the snow from his mouth and eyes, and recovered his scattered articles, but it was not so easy to recover his dignity, and this was made the more difficult by the discovery that the bunch of keys had disappeared.
"Who took those keys?" he roared as soon as he could articulate, but the only reply the question produced was laughter.
"Don't you wherrit yourself about those keys, squire," advised Bagby. "They 're safe stowed where they won't cause no more trouble. And since that is done with, we'd like to settle another little matter with you that we was going to come over to Greenwood about to-day, but seeing as you 're here, I don't see no reason why it should n't be attended to now."
"What's that?" snapped the squire.
"The meeting kind of thought things looked squawlish ahead, and that it would be best to be fixed for it, so I offered a resolution that the town buy twenty half-barrels of grain, and that—"
"Grain!" exclaimed the squire. "What in the 'nation can ye want with grain?"
"As we are all friends here, I'll tell you confidential sort, that we put it thataways, so as the resolutions need n't read too fiery, when they was published in the 'Gazette.' But the folks all knew as the grain was to be a black grain, that 's not very good eating."
"Why, this is treason!" cried Mr. Meredith. "Gunpowder! That 's—"
"Yes. Gunpowder," continued the spokesman, quite as much to the now concentrated crowd as to the questioner. "We reckon the time 's coming when we'll want it swingeing bad. And the meeting seemed to think the same way, for they voted that resolution right off, and appointed me and Phil Hennion and Mr. Wetman a committee to raise a levy to buy it."
"Think ye a town meeting can lay a tax levy?" contemptuously demanded Mr. Meredith. "None but the—"
"'T is n't to be nothing but a voluntary contribution," interrupted Bagby, grinning broadly, "and no man 's expected to give more than his proportion, as settled by his last rates."
"An' no man 's expected ter give less, nuther," said a voice back in the crowd.
"So if you've nine pounds seven and four with you, squire," went on Bagby, "'t will save you a special trip over to pay it."
"I'll see ye all damned first!" retorted the squire, warmly. "Why don't ye knock me down and take my purse, and have done with it?"
"'T would be the sensible thing with such a tarnal cross tyke," shouted some one.
"Everything fair and orderly is the way we work," continued the committee man. "But we want that nine pounds odd, and 't will be odd if we don't get it."
"You'll not get it from me," asserted the squire, turning to walk away.
As he did so, half a dozen hands were laid upon his arms from behind, and he was held so firmly that he could not move.
"Shall we give him a black coat, Joe?" asked some one.
"No," negatived Bagby. "Let 's see if being a 'babe in the wood' won't be enough to bring him to reason.
The slang term for occupants of the stocks was quite suggestive enough to produce instant result. The squire was dragged back till his legs were tripped from under him by the frame, the bunch of keys, which suddenly reappeared, served to unlock the upper board, and before the victim quite realised what had transpired he was safely fastened in the ignominious instrument. Regrettable as it is to record, Mr. Meredith began to curse in a manner highly creditable to his knowledge of Anglo-Saxon, but quite the reverse of his moral nature.
So long as the squire continued to express his rage and to threaten the bystanders with various penalties, the crowd stood about in obvious enjoyment, but anger that only excites amusement in others very quickly burns itself out, and in this particular case the chill of the snow on which the squire was sitting was an additional cause for a rapid cooling. Within two minutes his vocabulary had exhausted itself and he relapsed into silence. The fun being over, the crowd began to scatter, the older ones betaking themselves indoors while the youngsters waylaid Charles, as he came from hitching the horses, and suggested a drill.
The bondsman shook his head and walked to the squire. "Any orders, Mr. Meredith?" he asked.
"Get an axe and smash this—thing to pieces."
"They would not let me," replied the man, shrugging his shoulders. "Hadst best do as they want, sir. You can't fight the whole county."
"I'll never yield," fumed the master.
Charles again shrugged his shoulders, and walking back to the group, said, "Get your firelocks."
In five minutes forty men were in line on the green, and as the greatest landholder of the county sat in the stocks, in a break-neck attitude, with a chill growing in fingers and toes, he was forced to watch a rude and disorderly attempt at company drill, superintended by his own servant. It was a clumsy, wayward mass of men, and frequent revolts from orders occurred, which called forth sharp words from the drill-master. These in turn produced retorts or jokes from the ranks that spoke ill for the discipline, and a foreign officer, taking the superficial aspect, would have laughed to think that such a system could make soldiers. Further observation and thought would have checked his amused contempt, for certain conditions there were which made these men formidable. Angry as they became at Fownes, not one left the ranks, though presence was purely voluntary, and scarce one of them, ill armed though he might be, but was able to kill a squirrel or quail at thirty paces.
When the drill had terminated, a result due largely to the smell of cooking which began to steal from the houses facing the green, Charles drew Bagby aside, and after a moment's talk, the two, followed by most of the others, crossed to the squire.
"Mr. Meredith," said Charles, "I've passed my word to Bagby that you'll pay your share if he'll but release you, and that you won't try to prosecute him. Wilt back up my pledge?"
The prisoner, though blue and faint with cold, shook his head obstinately.
"There! I told you how it would be," sneered Bagby.
"But I tell you he'll be frosted in another hour. 'T will be nothing short of murder, man."
"Then let him contribute his share," insisted Bagby.
"'T is unfair to force a man on a principle."
"Look here," growled Bagby. "We are getting tired of your everlasting hectoring and attempting to run everything. Just because you know something of the manual don't make you boss of the earth."
The bondsman glanced at the squire, and urged, "Come, Mr. Meredith, you 'd better do it. Think how anxious Mrs. Meredith and—will be, aside from you probably taking a death cold, or losing a hand or foot."
At last the squire nodded his head, and without more ado Bagby stooped and unlocked the log. Mr. Meredith was so cramped that Charles had to almost lift him to his feet, and then give him a shoulder into the public room of the tavern, where he helped him into a chair before the fire. Then the servant called to the publican:—
"A jorum of sling for Mr. Meredith, and put an extra pepper in it."
"That sounds pretty good," said Bagby. "Just make that order for the crowd, and the squire'll pay for it."
While the favourite drink of the period was sizzling in the fire, Mr. Meredith recovered enough to pull out his purse and pay up the debatable levy. A moment later the steaming drink was poured into glasses, and Bagby said:—
"Now, squire, do the thing up handsome by drinking to the toast of liberty."
"I'll set you a better toast than that," offered the bondsman.
"'T ain't possible," cried one of the crowd.
The servant raised his glass and with an ironical smile said:—
"Here 's to liberty and fair play, gentlemen."
"That 's a toast we can all drink," responded Bagby, "just as often as some one'll pay for the liquor."
XIII THE WORLD IN MINIATURE
The exposure of the squire brought on a sharp attack of the gout which confined him to the house for nigh a month. Incidentally it is to be noted that his temper during this period was not confined, and when Philemon appeared one morning he was met with a reception that drove him away without a chance to plead his cause. Mrs. Meredith and Janice were compelled to listen to many descriptions as to what punitive measures their particular lord of creation intended to set in motion against the villagers when he should attend the Assembly, or when King George had reduced the land to its old-time order.
One piece of good fortune the attack brought its victim was its putting him in bed on the particular day selected for the committee of the town meeting to inform the squire as to the instruction voted by that gathering for his conduct in the Assembly. In default of an interview, they merely left an attested copy of the resolution, and had to rest satisfied, without knowing in what way their representative received it. Mrs. Meredith, Janice, and Peg did not remain in any such doubt.
Another unfortunate upon whom the vials of his wrath were poured out was the parson, who came a-calling one afternoon. News that he was in the parlour was sufficient to bring Mr. Meredith downstairs prematurely, where he enacted a high scene, berating the caller, and finally ordering him from the house.
A relapse followed upon the exertion and outburst, but even gout had its limitations, and finally the patient was sufficiently convalescent for preparations to begin for the journey to Trenton and Burlington.
It did not take Janice long one morning to pack her little leather-covered and brass-nail studded trunk, and, this done, her conduct became not a little peculiar. After dinner she spent some time in spinet practice, and then rising announced to the elders that she must pack for the morrow's journey. Her absence thus explained, she left the room, only to steal through the kitchen, and catch Sukey's shawl from its hook in the passage to the wood-shed. Regardless of slippers and snow, she then sped toward the concealing hedge, and behind its friendly protection walked quickly to the stable. The door was rolled back enough to let the girl pass in quietly, and when she had done so, she glanced about in search of something. For an instant a look of disappointment appeared on her face, but the next moment, as a faint sound of scratching broke upon her ear, she stole softly to the feed and harness room, and peeked in.
The groom was sitting on a nail barrel, in front of the meal-bin, the cover of which was closed and was thus made to serve for a desk. On this were several sheets of what was then called pro patria paper, or foolscap, and most of these were very much bescribbled. An ink-horn and a sand-box completed the outfit, except for a quill in the hands of the bond-servant, which had given rise to the sound the girl had heard. Now, however, it was not writing, for the man was chewing the feather end with a look of deep thought on his face.
"O Clarion," he sighed, as the girl's glance was momentarily occupied with the taking in of these details, "why canst thou not give me a word to rhyme with morn? 'T will not come, and here 't is the thirteenth."
A low growl from Clarion, sounding like anything more than the desired rhyme, made the servant glance up, and the moment he saw the figure of some one, he rose, hastily bunched together the sheets of paper, and holding them in his hand cried, "Who 's that?" in a voice expressing both embarrassment and anger. Then as his eyes dwelt on the intruder, he continued in an altered tone, "I ask your pardon, Miss Janice; I thought 't was one of the servants. They are everlastingly spying on me. Can I serve you?" he added, rolling the papers up and stuffing them into his belt.
Janice's eyes sought the floor, as she hesitatingly said, "I —I came to—to ask a favour of you."
"'T is but for you to name," replied the man, eagerly.
"Will you let me—I want—I should like Tibbie to see the—the picture of me, and I wondered if—if you would let me take it to Trenton—I'll bring it back, you know, and—"
"Ah, Miss Janice," exclaimed the servant, as the girl halted, "if you 'd but take it as a gift, 't would pleasure me so!" While he spoke, without pretence of concealment he unbuttoned the top button of his shirt and taking hold of a string about his neck pulled forth a small wooden case, obviously of pocket-knife manufacture. Snapping the cord, he offered its pendant to Janice.
"I—I would keep it, Charles," replied Janice, "but you know mommy told me—"
"And what right has she to prevent you?" broke in Charles, warmly. "It does her no wrong, nor can it harm you to keep it. What right have they to tyrannise over you? 'T is all of a piece with their forcing you to marry that awkward, ignorant put. Here, take it." The groom seized her hand, put the case in her palm, closed her fingers over, and held them thus, as if striving to make her accept the gift.
"Oh, Charles," cried the girl, very much flustered, "you should n't ask—"
"Ah, Miss Janice," he begged, "won't you keep it? They need never know."
"But I only wanted to show it to Tibbie," explained the girl, "to ask her if mommy was right when she said 't was monstrous flattered."
"'T is an impossibility," responded the man, earnestly, though he was unable to keep from slightly smiling at the unconscious naivete of the question. "I would she could see it in a more befitting frame, to set it off. If thou 't but let me, I'd put it in the other setting. Then 't would show to proper advantage."
"Would it take long?"
"A five minutes only."
The girl threw open the shawl, and thrusting her hand under her neckerchief into the V-cut of her bodice, produced the miniature.
The servant recoiled a step as she held it out to him. Then snatching rather than taking the trinket from her hand, he said, "That is no place for this."
"Why not?" asked Janice.
"Because she is unfit to rest there," cried the man. He pulled out a knife, and with the blade pried up the rim, and shook free the protective glass and slip of ivory. "Now 't is purged of all wrong," he said, touching the setting to his lips. "I would it were for me to keep, for 't has lain near your heart, and 't is still warm with happiness."
The speech and act so embarrassed Janice that she hurriedly said, "I really must n't stay. I've been too long as 't is, and—"
"'T will take but a moment," the servant assured her hastily. "Wilt please give me t' other one?" Throwing the miniature he had taken from the frame on the floor, he set about removing that of Janice from its wooden casing and fitting it to its new setting.
"Don't," cried Janice, in alarm, stooping to pick up the slip of ivory. "'T is not owing to you that 't was n't spoiled," she added indignantly, after a glance at it.
"Small loss if 't were!" responded the man, bitterly. "Promise me, Miss Janice, that you'll not henceforth carry it in your bosom?"
"'T is a monstrous strange thing to ask."
"I tell thee she's not fit to rest near a pure heart."
"How know you that?"
"How know I?" cried the man, in amazement. "Why—" There he stopped and knit his brows.
"I knew thou wert deceiving us when thee said 't was not thine," charged the girl.
"Nay, Miss Janice, 't was the truth I told you, though a quibble, I own. The miniature never was mine, tho' 't was once in my possession."
"Then how came you by it?"
"I took it by force from—never mind whom." The old bitter look was on the man's face, and anger burned in his eyes.
"You stole it!" cried the girl, drawing away from him.
"Not I," denied the man. "'T was taken from one who had less right to 't than I."
"You knew her?" questioned the girl.
"Ay," cried the man, with a kind of desperation. "I should think I did!"
"And—and you—you loved her?" she asked with a hesitancy which might mean that she was in doubt whether to ask the question, or perhaps that she rather hoped her surmise would prove wrong.
The young fellow halted in his work of trimming the ivory to fit the frame, and for a moment he stood, apparently looking down at his half-completed job, as it lay on the top of the meal-box. Then suddenly he put his hand to his throat as if he were choking, and the next instant he leaned forward, and, burying his face in his arms, as they rested on the whilom desk, he struggled to stifle the sobs that shook his frame.
"Oh, I did n't mean to pain you!" she cried in an agony of guilt and alarm.
Charles rose upright, and dashing his shirt sleeve across his eyes, he turned to the girl. "'T is over, Miss Janice," he asserted, "and a great baby I was to give way to 't."
"I can understand, and I don't think 't was babyish," said Janice, her heart wrung with sympathy for him. "She is so lovely!"
The man's lips quivered again, despite of his struggle to control himself. "That she is," he groaned. "And I—I loved her—My God! how I loved her! I thought her an angel from heaven; she was everything in life to me. When I fled from London, it seemed as if my heart was—was dead for ever."
"She was untrue?" asked Janice, with a deep sigh.
The servant's face darkened. "So untrue—Ah! 'T is not to be spoken. The two of them!"
"You challenged and killed him!" surmised Janice, excitedly. "And that's why you came to America."
The groom shook his head sadly. "Not that, Miss Janice. They robbed me of both honour and revenge. I was powerless to punish either—except by—Bah! I've done with them for ever."
"Foh mussy's sakes, chile," came Sukey's voice, "what youse dam' hyar? Run quick, honey, foh your mah is 'quirin' foh youse."
"Oh, Luddy!" cried the girl, reaching out for the miniature.
"'T is not done, but I'll see to 't that you get it this evening," exclaimed Charles.
The girl turned and fled toward the house, closely followed by Sukey.
"Peg she come to de kitchen foh youse," the cook explained; "an' 'cause I dun see youse go out de back do', I specks whar youse gwine, an' I sens her back to say dat young missus helpin' ole Sukey, an' be in pretty quick, an' so dey never know."
"Oh, Sukey, you're a dear!"
"But, missy dear, doan youse do nuthin' foolish 'bout dat fellah, 'cause I 'se helped youse. Doan youse—"
"Of course I won't," asserted the girl. "I could n't, Sukey. You know I couldn't."
"Dat 's right, honey. Ole Sukey knows she can trust youse. Now run right along, chile."
"What have you been doing, Janice?" asked her mother, as the girl entered the parlour.
"I've been in the kitchen with Sukey, mommy," replied Janice. And if there was wrong in the quibble, both father and mother were equally to blame with the girl, for "Ole Sukey" was actually better able to enter into her feelings and thoughts than either of them; and where obedience is enforced from authority and not from sympathy and confidence, there will be secret deceit, if not open revolt.
Left to himself, the bondsman finished trimming the ivory to a proper size, and neatly fitted it into the frame. Then he spread the papers out, and in some haste, for the winter's day was fast waning, he resumed his scribbling, varied by intervals of pen-chewing and knitting of brows. Finally he gave a sigh of relief, and taking a blank sheet he copied in a bold hand-writing what was written on the paper he had last toiled over. Then picking up the miniature, he touched it to his lips. "She was sent to give me faith again in women," he said, as he folded the miniature into the paper.
"Well, old man," he remarked, as he passed from the stable, to the dog, who had followed in his footsteps, and sought to attract his attention by fawning upon him, "has blindman's holiday come at last? Wait till I bestow this, and get a bite from Sukey to put in my pocket, and we'll be off for a look at the rabbits. 'T is a poor sport, but 't will do till something better comes. Oh for a war!"
The bondsman passed into the kitchen, and made his plea to Sukey for a supper he could take away with him. The request was granted, and while the cook went to the larder to get him something, Charles stepped into the hall and listening intently he stole upstairs and tapped gently on a door. Getting no reply, he opened it, and tiptoeing hastily to the dressing-stand, he tucked the packet under the powder-box. A minute later he was back in the kitchen, and erelong was stamping through the snow, whistling cheerfully, which the hound echoed by yelps of excited delight.
Janice was unusually thoughtful all through supper, and little less so afterwards. She was sent to her room earlier than usual, that she might make up in advance for the early start of the journey, and she did not dally with her disrobing, the room being almost arctic in its coldness. But after she had put on the short night-rail that was the bed-gown of the period, the girl paused for a moment in front of her mirror, even though she shivered as she did so.
"I really thought 't was for me he cared," she said. "But she is so much more beautiful that—" Janice tucked the flyaway locks into the snug-fitting nightcap, which together with the bed-curtains formed the protections from the drafts inevitable to leaky windows and big chimneys, and having thus done her best to make herself ugly, she blew out her candle, and as she crept into bed, she remarked, "'T was very foolish of me."
XIV A QUESTION CONCERNING THALIA
All was animation at Greenwood the next morning, while yet it was dark, and as Janice dressed by candle-light, she trembled from something more than the icy chill of the room. The girl had been twice in her life to New York, once each to Newark and to Burlington, and though her visits to Trenton were of greater number, the event was none the less too rare an occurrence not to excite her. Her mother had to order her sharply to finish what was on her plate at breakfast, or she would scarce have eaten.
"If thou dost not want to be frozen, lass, before we get to Trenton," warned the squire, "do as thy mother says. Stuff cold out of the stomach, or 't is impossible to keep the scamp out of the blood."
"Yes, dadda," said the girl, obediently falling to once more. After a few mouthfuls she asked, "Dadda, who was Thalia?"
"'T was a filly who won the two-year purse at the Philadelphia races in sixty-eight," the squire informed her, between gulps of sausage and buckwheat cakes.
"Was she very lovely?" asked Janice, in a voice of surprise.
"No. An ill-shaped mare, but with a great pace."
The girl looked thoughtful for a moment and then asked, "Is that the only one there is?"
"Only what?" demanded her mother.
"The only Thalia?"
"'T is the only one I've heard of," said the squire.
"Thou 'rt wrong, Lambert," corrected his spouse, in wifely fashion. "'T was one of those old heathens with horns, or tail, or something, I forget exactly. What set thy mind on that, child? Hast been reading some romance on the sly?"
"No, mommy," denied the girl.
"Put thy thoughts to better uses, then," ordered the mother. "Think more of thy own sin and corruption and less of what is light and vain."
It had been arranged that Thomas was to drive the sleigh, the squire preferring to leave Fownes in care of the remaining horses. It was Charles, however, who brought down the two trunks, and after he had put them in place he suggested, "If you'll take seat, Miss Janice, I'll tuck you well in." Spreading a large bearskin on the seat and bottom of the sleigh, he put in a hot soapstone, and very unnecessarily took hold of the little slippered feet, and set them squarely upon it, as if their owner were quite unequal to the effort. Then he folded the robe carefully about her, and drew the second over that, allowing the squire, it must be confessed, but a scant portion for his share.
"Thank you, Charles," murmured the girl, gratefully. "Of course he's a bond-servant and he has a horrid beard," she thought, "but it is nice to have some one to—to think of your comfort. If he were only Philemon!"
The bondsman climbed into the rear of the sleigh, that he might fold the back part of the skin over her shoulders. The act brought his face close to the inquirer, and she turned her head and whispered, "Who was Thalia?"
"'T was one of—"
"Charles, get out of that sleigh," ordered Mrs. Meredith, sharply. "Learn thy place, sir. Janice, thou 'rt quite old enough to take care of thyself. We'll have no whispering or coddling, understand."
The bondsman sullenly obeyed, and a moment later the sleigh started. The servant looked wistfully after it until the sound of the bells was lost, and then, with a sigh, he went to his work.
With all the vantage of the daylight start, it took good driving among the drifts to get over the twenty-eight miles that lay between Greenwood and Trenton before the universal noon dinner, and as the sleigh drew up at the Drinkers' home on the main street of the village, the meal was in the air if not on the table.
For this reason the two girls had not a chance for a moment's confidence before dinner; and though Janice was fairly bursting with all that had happened since Tibbie's visit, the departure of the squire for Burlington immediately the meal was ended, and the desire of Tabitha's father and aunt to have news of Mrs. Meredith and of the doings "up Brunswick way," filled in the whole afternoon till tea time—if the misnomer can be used, for, unlike the table at Greenwood, tea was a tabooed article in the Drinker home. One fact worth noting about the meal was that Janice asked if any of them knew who Thalia was.
"Ay," said Mr. Drinker, "and the less said of her the better. She was a lewd creature that—"
"Mr. Drinker!" cried Tabitha's aunt. "Thee forgets there are gentlewomen present. Wilt have some preserve, Janice?"
"No, I thank you," said the girl. "I'm not hungry." And she proved it by playing with what was on her plate for the rest of the meal.
Not till the two girls retired did they have an opportunity to exchange confidences. The moment they were by themselves, Tabitha demanded, "What made thee so serious to-night?"
"Oh, Tibbie," sighed Janice, dolefully," I'm very unhappy!"
"I—he—Charles—I'm afraid he—and yet—'T is something he wrote, but whether in joke or—Mr. Evatt said he insulted me at the tavern—Yet 't is so pretty that—and mommy interrupted just—"
"What art thou talking about, Jan?" exclaimed Tibbie.
Janice even in her disjointed sentences had begun to unlace her travelling bodice,—for with a prudence almost abnormal this one frock was not cut low,—and she now produced from her bosom a paper which she unfolded, and then offered to Tibbie with a suggestion of hesitation, asking "Dost think he meant to insult me?"
Tabitha eagerly took the sheet, and read—
TO THALIA These lines to her my passion tell, Describe the empire of her spell; A love which naught will e'er dispel, That flames for sweetest Thalia.
The sun that brights the fairest morn, The stars that gleam in Capricorn, Do not so much the skies adorn As does my lovely Thalia.
The tints with which the rose enchants, The fragrance which the violet grants; Each doth suggest, but ne'er supplants, The charms of dainty Thalia.
To gaze on her is sweet delight: 'T is heaven whene'er she 's in my sight, But when she's gone, 't is endless night— All 's dark without my Thalia.
I vow to her, by God above, By hope of life, by depth of love, That from her side I ne'er will rove, So much love I my Thalia.
"How monstrous pretty!" cried Tabitha. "I'm sure he meant it rightly."
"I thought 't was a beautiful valentine," sighed Janice,— "and 't was the first I ever had—but dadda says she was an ill-shaped mare—and mommy says 't was something with a tail—and 't is almost as bad to have her a wicked woman— so I'm feared he meant it in joke—or worse—"
"I don't believe it," comforted Tibbie. "He may have made a mistake in the name, but I'm sure he meant it; that he—well—thee knows. And if thee copies it fair, and puts in 'Delia,' or 'Celia,' 't will do to show to the girls. I wish some one would send me such a valentine."
Made cheerful by her friend's point of view, Janice went on with more spirit,—
"Nor is that the end." She took from her trunk a handkerchief and unwrapping it, produced the unset miniature. "He let me keep it," she said.
"How mighty wonderful!" again exclaimed Tibbie, growing big-eyed. "Who—"
"Furthermore, and in continuation, as Mr. McClave always says after his ninthly," airily interrupted Janice, drawing from her bosom the portrait of herself. "Who 's that, Tibbie Drinker?"
"Janice!" cried the person so challenged. "How lovely! Who—Did Mr. Peale come to Greenwood?"
"Not he. Who, think you, did it?"
"I vow if I can guess."
"No!" gasped Tibbie, properly electrified. "Thee is cozening me."
"Not for a moment," cried Janice, delightedly.
"Tell me everything about all" was Tabitha's rapturous demand.
It took Janice many minutes, and Tibbie was called upon to use many exclamation and question marks, ere the tale of all these surprises was completed. Long before it had come to a finish, the two girls were snuggled together in bed, half in real love, as well as for the mutual animal heat, and half that they might whisper the lower. The facts, after many interruptions and digressions, having been narrated, Janice asked,—
"Whom, think you, Charles loves, Tibbie?"
"'T is very strange! From his valentine and miniature I should think 't was thee. But from what he told thee—"
"'T is exactly that which puzzles me."
"Oh, Janice! He—Perhaps thee was right. He may be a villain who is trying to beguile thee."
"For what could—Then why should he tell me about her?"
"That—well—'t is beyond me."
"If't had not been for coming away, I—that is—" The girl hesitated and then said, "Tibbie?"
"Dost think—I mean—" The girl drew her bedfellow closer, and in an almost inaudible voice asked, "Would it be right, think you—when I go back, you know—to—to encourage him—that is, to give him a chance to tell me—so as to find out?"
The referee of this important question was silent for long enough to give a quality of consideration to her opinion, and then decided, "I think thee shouldst. 'T is a question that thou hast a right to know about." Having given the ruling, this most upright judge changed her manner from one conveying thought to one suggesting eagerness, and asked, "Oh, Janice, if he does—if thee finds out anything, wilt thee tell it me?"
"Ought I?" asked Janice, divided between the pleasure of monopolising a secret and the enjoyment of sharing it.
"Surely thee ought," cried Tabitha. "After telling me so much, thou shouldst—for Charles' sake. Otherwise I might misjudge him."
"Then I'll tell you everything," cried Janice, clearly happy in the decision.
"And if he does love you, Jan?" suggestively remarked Tibbie.
"'T will be vastly exciting," said Janice. "You know, Tibbie, it frightens me a little, for he's just the kind of man to do something desperate."
"And—and you would n't—"
"Tibbie Drinker! A redemptioner!"
"But Janice, he must have been a gentle—"
"What he was, little matters," interrupted the girl. "He's a bond-servant now, and even if he were n't, he'd have a bristly beard—Ugh!"
"Poor fellow," sighed Tabitha. "'T is not his fault!"
"Nor is 't mine," retorted Janice.
A pause of some moments followed and then Janice asked: "Dost think I am promised to Mr. Evatt, Tibbie?"—for let it be confessed that every incident of what she had pledged herself not to tell had been poured out to her confidant.
"I think so," whispered the girl, "and he being used to court ways would surely know."
"He 's—well, he's a fine figure of a man," owned Janice. "And tho' I ne'er intended it, I'd rather 't would be he than Philemon Hennion or the parson."
"What if thy father and mother should not consent?" said Tabitha.
"'T would be lovely!" cried Janice, ecstatically. "Just like a romance, you know. And being court-bred, he'd know how to—well—how to give it eclat. Oh, Tibbie, think of making a runaway match and of going to court!"
Much as Tabitha loved her friend, the little green-eyed monster gained possession of her momentarily. "He may be deceiving thee," she suggested. "Perhaps he never was there."
"Nay. He knows all the titled people. He was at one of Lady Grafton's routs, Tibbie, and was spoke to by the Duke of Cumberland!"
For a man falsely to assert acquaintance with a royal duke seemed so impossible to the girl that this was accepted as indisputable proof; driven from her first position, Tibbie remarked, "Perhaps he won't return. Many 's the maid been cozened and deserted by the men."
For a moment, either because this idea did not please Janice or because she needed time to digest it, there was silence.
"Oh, Janice," sighed Tibbie, presently, "'t is almost past belief that thee has had so much happen to thee."
But a few weeks before the girl thought the chief part of her experiences the most cruel luck that had ever befallen maiden. Yet so quickly does youth put trouble in the past, and so respondent is it to the romantic view of things, that she now promptly answered,—
"Is 't not, Tibbie! Am I not a lucky girl? If I only was certain about Thalia, I should be so happy."
XV QUESTIONS OF DELICACY
Of the time Janice spent at Trenton little need be said. Compared with Greenwood, the town was truly almost riotous. Neither Presbyterian nor Quaker approved of dancing, and so the regular weekly assemblies were forbidden fruit to the girls, and Janice and Tibbie were too well born to be indelicately of the throng who skated long hours on Assanpink Creek, or to take part in the frequent coasting-parties. But of other amusements they had, in the expression of the day, "a great plenty." Four teas,—but without that particular beverage,—two quilting-bees, one candy-pulling and one corn-popping, three evenings at singing-school, and a syllabub party supplied such ample social dissipation to Janice that life seemed for the time fairly to whirl.
Not the least of the excitement, it must be confessed, was the conquest by Janice of a young Quaker cousin of Tabitha's named Penrhyn Morris. Two other of the Trenton lads, too, began to behave in a manner so suspicious to the girls as to call for much discussion. Tibbie as well had several swains, who furnished still further subjects of conversation after sleeping hours had come. Several times sharp reproofs were shouted through the partition from Miss Drinker's room, but the whispering only sank in tone and not in volume.
One incident not to be omitted was the appearance of Philemon, nominally on business, in Trenton; but he called upon the Drinkers, and remained to dinner when asked. He stayed on and on after that meal, wearying the two girls beyond measure by the necessity of maintaining a conversation, until, just as the desperation point was reached, Tibbie introduced a topic which had an element of promise in it.
"Hast thou seen Charles Fownes of late?" she asked of the mute awkward figure; and though Janice did not look up, there was a moment's flicker of her eyelashes.