We were now in the Chestnut Hollow, and I sent Mary Quince to her old point of observation, which commanded a view of the path in the direction of the Windmill Wood, with her former order to call ‘I’ve found it,’ as loudly as she could, in case she should see anyone approaching.
I stopped at the point of our yesterday’s meeting. I peered under the branches, and my heart beat fast as I saw Meg Hawkes awaiting me.
‘Come away, lass,’ whispered Beauty, very pale; ‘he’s here—Tom Brice.’
And she led the way, shoving aside the leafless underwood, and we reached Tom. The slender youth, groom or poacher—he might answer for either—with his short coat and gaitered legs, was sitting on a low horizontal bough, with his shoulder against the trunk.
‘Don’t ye mind; sit ye still, lad,’ said Meg, observing that he was preparing to rise, and had entangled his hat in the boughs. ’Sit ye still, and hark to the lady. He’ll take it, Miss Maud, if he can; wi’ na ye, lad?’
‘E’es, I’ll take it,’ he replied, holding out his hand.
‘Tom Brice, you won’t deceive me?’
‘Noa, sure,’ said Tom and Meg nearly in the same breath.
‘You are an honest English lad, Tom—you would not betray me?’ I was speaking imploringly.
‘Noa, sure,’ repeated Tom.
There was something a little unsatisfactory in the countenance of this light-haired youth, with the sharpish up-turned nose. Throughout our interview he said next to nothing, and smiled lazily to himself, like a man listening to a child’s solemn nonsense, and leading it on, with an amused irony, from one wise sally to another.
Thus it seemed to me that this young clown, without in the least intending to be offensive, was listening to me with a profound and lazy mockery.
I could not choose, however; and, such as he was, I must employ him or none.
‘Now, Tom Brice, a great deal depends on this.’
‘That’s true for her, Tom Brice,’ said Meg, who now and then confirmed my asseverations.
‘I’ll give you a pound now, Tom,’ and I placed the coin and the letter together in his hand. ’And you are to give this letter to Lady Knollys, at Elverston; you know Elverston, don’t you?’
‘He does, Miss. Don’t ye, lad?’
‘Well, do so, Tom, and I’ll be good to you so long as I live.’
‘D’ye hear, lad?’
‘E’es,’ said Tom; ‘it’s very good.’
’You’ll take the letter, Tom? ’I said, in much greater trepidation as to his answer than I showed.
‘E’es, I’ll take the letter,’ said he, rising, and turning it about in his fingers under his eye, like a curiosity.
‘Tom Brice,’ I said, ’If you can’t be true to me, say so; but don’t take the letter except to give it to Lady Knollys, at Elverston. If you won’t promise that, let me have the note back. Keep the pound; but tell me that you won’t mention my having asked you to carry a letter to Elverston to anyone.’