“Humph!” finally growled the squire. “I like the look of him still less.”
“He holds himself like a gentleman,” asserted Tabitha.
“This fellow will need close watching,” predicted Mr. Meredith. “He ’s no yokel. He moves like a gentleman or a house-servant. Yet he had to make his mark on the covenant.”
“I think, dadda,” said Miss Meredith, in her most calmly judicial manner, “that the new man is a born villain, and has committed some terrible crime. He has a horrid, wicked face, and he stares just as—as—so that one wants to shiver.”
Mrs. Meredith rose. “Janice,” she chided, “thou ’t too young to make thy opinions of the slightest value. Go to thy spinet, child, and don’t let me hear any more such foolish babble. Charles has a good face, and will make a good servant.”
“I don’t care what mommy thinks,” Miss Meredith confided to Tabitha in the parlour, as the one took her seat at an embroidery frame and the other at the spinet. “I know he’s a bad man, and will end by killing one of us and stealing the silver and a horse, just as Mr. Vreeland’s bond-servant did. He makes me think of the villain in ’The Tragic History of Sir Watkins Stokes and Lady Betty Artless.’”
In the week following his advent the new servant was the cause of considerable discussion, and, regrettably, of not a little controversy, among the members of the household of Greenwood. The squire maintained that “the fellow is a bad-tempered, lazy, deceitful rogue, in need of much watching.” Mrs. Meredith, on the contrary, invariably praised the man, and promptly suppressed her husband whenever he began to rail against him. To Janice, with the violent prejudices of youth still unmodified by experience and reason, Charles was almost a special deputy of the individual she heard so unmercifully thrashed to tatters each Sunday by the Rev. Mr. McClave. And again, to the contrary, Tabitha insisted with growing fervour that the servant was a gentleman, possessed of all the qualities that word implied, plus the most desirable attribute of all others to eighteenth-century maidens, a romantic possibility.
As a matter of fact, these diverse and contradictory views had a crossing-point, and accepting this as their mean, Charles proved himself to be a knowing man with horses, an entirely ignorant and by no means eager labourer in the little farm work there was to do, a silent though easily angered being with every one save Mrs. Meredith, and so clearly above his station that he was viewed with disfavour, tinctured by not a little fear, by house-servants, by field hands, and even by Mr. Meredith’s overseer.
[Illustration: “Nay, give me the churn.”]