For the first time Tom looked perfectly serious. He twiddled the corner of my letter between his finger and thumb, and wore very much the countenance of a poacher about to be committed.
‘I don’t want to chouce ye, Miss; but I must take care o’ myself, ye see. The letters goes all through Silas’s fingers to the post, and he’d know damn well this worn’t among ’em. They do say he opens ’em, and reads ’em before they go; an’ that’s his diversion. I don’t know; but I do believe that’s how it be; an’ if this one turned up, they’d all know it went be hand, and I’d be spotted for’t.’
‘But you know who I am, Tom, and I’d save you,’ said I, eagerly.
‘Ye’d want savin’ yerself, I’m thinkin’, if that feel oot,’ said Tom, cynically. ’I don’t say, though, I’ll not take it—only this—I won’t run my head again a wall for no one.’
‘Tom,’ I said, with a sudden inspiration, ’give me back the letter, and take me out of Bartram; take me to Elverston; it will be the best thing—for you, Tom, I mean—it will indeed—that ever befell you.’
With this clown I was pleading, as for my life; my hand was on his sleeve. I was gazing imploringly in his face.
But it would not do; Tom Brice looked amused again, swung his head a little on one side, grinning sheepishly over his shoulder on the roots of the trees beside him, as if he were striving to keep himself from an uncivil fit of laughter.
’I’ll do what a wise lad may, Miss; but ye don’t know they lads; they bain’t that easy come over; and I won’t get knocked on the head, nor sent to gaol ’appen, for no good to thee nor me. There’s Meg there, she knows well enough I could na’ manage that; so I won’t try it, Miss, by no chance; no offence, Miss; but I’d rayther not, an’ I’ll just try what I can make o’this; that’s all I can do for ye.’
Tom Brice, with these words, stood up, and looked uneasily in the direction of the Windmill Wood.
‘Mind ye, Miss, coom what will, ye’ll not tell o’ me?’
’Whar ‘ill ye go now, Tom?’ inquired Meg, uneasily.
‘Never ye mind, lass,’ answered he, breaking his way through the thicket, and soon disappearing.
’E’es that ’ill be it—he’ll git into the sheepwalk behind the mound. They’re all down yonder; git ye back, Miss, to the hoose—be the side-door; mind ye, don’t go round the corner; and I’ll jest sit awhile among the bushes, and wait a good time for a start. And good-bye, Miss; and don’t ye show like as if there was aught out o’ common on your mind. Hish!’
There was a distant hallooing.
‘That be fayther!’ she whispered, with a very blank countenance, and listened with her sunburnt hand to her ear.
‘Tisn’t me, only Davy he’ll be callin’,’ she said, with a great sigh, and a joyless smile. ‘Now git ye away i’ God’s name.’
So running lightly along the path, under cover of this thick wood, I recalled Mary Quince, and together we hastened back again to the house, and entered, as directed, by the side-door, which did not expose us to be seen from the Windmill Wood, and, like two criminals, we stole up by the backstairs, and so through the side-gallery to my room; and there sat down to collect my wits, and try to estimate the exact effect of what had just occurred.