Had Janice been older and more experienced, the very unguardedness would have aroused her suspicions. To her it seemed, however, but the arrangement of a kind destiny, and not daring to risk a delay till after tea, when conditions might not again so favour her, she left the work she had sat down to in the parlour after dinner, and tiptoeing through the hall, lest she should disturb the card-players in the squire’s office, she secured her warmest wrap. Returning to the parlour, she softly raised a window, and, slipping out, in another moment was within the concealing hedge-row of box.
Speeding across the garden, the girl crept through a break in the hedge, then, stooping low, she followed a stone wall till the road was reached. No longer in sight of the house, she hurried on boldly, till within sight of the Van Meter farm. She skirted the house at a discreet distance and stole into the barn. With a glance to assure herself that the mare was still there, and a kindly pat as she passed, she mounted into the mow, where for both prudence and warmth she buried herself deep in the hay. Then it seemed to Janice that hours elapsed, the sole sounds being the contented munching of horses and cattle, varied by the occasional stamp of a hoof.
Suddenly the girl sat up, with a realising sense that she had been asleep, and with no idea for how long. A sound below explained her waking, and as she listened, she made out the noise to be that of harnessing or unharnessing. Creeping as near the edge of the mow as she dared, she peered over, but all was blackness.
“Colonel Brereton?” she finally said.
A moment’s silence ensued before she had an answer, though it was eager enough when it came. “Is ’t you, Miss Janice, and where are you?”
The girl came down the ladder and moved blindly toward the stalls. As she did so, somebody came in contact with her; instantly she was enfolded by a pair of arms, and before she could speak she felt a man’s eager lips first on her cheek, and next on her chin.
“Heaven bless you for coming, my darling,” whispered Brereton.
Janice struggled to free herself as Brereton tried to caress her the third time. “Don’t,” she protested. “You—I— How dare you?”
“A pretty question to ask an ardent lover and a desperate man, whose beloved confesses her passion by coming to him!”
“I didn’t!” expostulated the girl, as, desperate with mortification, she broke away from the embrace by sheer strength and fled to the other side of the barn. “How dare you think such things of me?”
“Then for what came you?” inquired Jack.
“To warn you.”
“That you must not bring Joggles back, for they—the soldiers—are watching the stable.”
“You told them?”
The girl faltered, hating to acknowledge her mistake, now that it was remedied. “If I had, why should I take the risk and the shame of coming here?” she replied.