Hennion paused to swallow an over-large mouthful, which almost produced a choking fit, before he could reply. “He han’t a civil word about him, squire—a regular sullen dog.”
“Cauldwell writes guardedly, saying it was the best he could do. Where d’ ye leave him, lad?”
“Outside, in my waggon.”
“Peg, bid him to come in. We’ll have
a look at—” Mr.
Meredith consulted the covenant enclosed and read, “Charles
A moment later, preceded by the maid, Fownes entered. He took a quick, almost furtive, survey of the room, then glanced in succession at each of those seated about the table, till his eyes rested on Janice. There they fixed themselves in a bold, unconcealed scrutiny, to the no small embarrassment of the maiden, though the man himself stood in an easy, unconstrained attitude, quite unheeding the five pairs of eyes staring at him, or, if conscious, entirely unembarrassed by them.
“Well, Charles, Mr. Cauldwell writes me that ye don’t know much about horses or gardening, but he thinks ye have parts and can pick it up quickly.”
Still keeping his eyes on Miss Meredith, Fownes nodded his head, with a short, quick jerk, far from respectful.
“But he also says ye are a surly, hot-tempered fellow, who may need a touch of a whip now and again.”
Without turning his head, a second time the man gave a jerk of it, conveying an idea of assent, but it was the assent of contempt far more than of accord.
“Come, come,” ordered the squire, testily. “Let ’s have a sound of your tongue. Is Mr. Cauldwell right?”
Still looking at Miss Meredith, the man shrugged his shoulders, and replied, “Bain’t vor the bikes of ar to zay Mister Cauldwell bai a liar.” Yet the voice and manner left little doubt in the hearers as to the speaker’s private opinion, and Janice laughed, partly at the implication, but more in nervousness.
“What kind of work are ye used to?” asked Mr. Meredith.
The man hesitated for a moment and then muttered crossly, “Ar indentured vor to work, not to bai questioned.”
“Then work ye shall have,” cried the squire, hotly. “Peg, show him the stable, and tell Tom—”
“One moment, Lambert,” interjected his wife, and then she asked, “Hast thou had breakfast, Charles?”
Fownes shook his head sullenly.
“Take him to the kitchen and give him some at once, Peg,” ordered Mrs. Meredith.
For the first time the fellow looked away from Janice, fixing his eyes on Mrs. Meredith. Then he bowed easily and gracefully, saying, “Thank you.” Apparently unconscious that for a moment he had left the Somerset burr off his tongue and the rustic pretence from his manner, he followed Peg to the kitchen.
If he were unconscious of the slip, it was more than were his auditors, and for a moment they all exchanged glances in silent bewilderment.