For the most part, Fownes spoke in the West of England dialect; but whenever he became interested, this instantly slipped from him, as did his still more ineffective attempt to move and act the rustic. Indeed, the ease of his movements and the straightness of his carriage, with a certain indefinable precision of manner, led to a common agreement among his fellow-labourers that he had earlier in life accepted the king’s shilling. Granting him to be but one and twenty years of age, as his covenant stated, and as in fact he looked, his service must have been shorter than the act of Parliament allowed, and this seeming bar to their hypothesis caused many winks and shrugs over the tankards of ale consumed of an evening at the King George tavern in the village of Brunswick. Furthermore, for some months the deserter columns of such stray numbers of the “London Gazette” as occasionally drifted to the ordinary were eagerly scanned by the loungers, on the possibility that they might contain some advertisement of a fellow standing five feet ten, with broad shoulders, light brown hair, straight nose, and gray eyes, whose whereabout was of interest to His Majesty’s War Office, Whitehall. Neither from this source, however, nor from any other, did they gain the slightest clue to the past history of the bond-servant, spy upon the fellow who would.
Nor was talk of the man limited to farm hands and tavern idlers, for dearth of new topics in the little community made him a subject of converse to the two girls during the hours of spinet practice, embroidery, and sewing, which were their daily occupations between breakfast and dinner, and, even extended into the afternoon, if the stint was not completed. Yet all their discussion brought them no nearer to agreement, Janice maintaining that Fownes was a villain in posse, if not in esse, while Tabitha contended that Charles had been disappointed in a love which he still, none the less, cherished, and which to her mind accounted in every particular for his conduct. As such a theory allowed considerable scope to the imagination, she promptly created several romances about him, in all of which he was of noble birth, with such other desirable factors as made him a true hero; and having thus endowed him with a halo of romance, she could not find words strong enough to express her thorough-going contempt for the woman whose disregard and cruelty had driven him across the seas.
“Thee knows, Janice,” she argued, when the latter expressed scepticism, “that the Earl of Anglesey was kidnapped, and sold in Maryland, so it ’s perfectly possible for a nobleman to be a bond-servant.”
“That ’s the one case,” answered Janice, sagely.
“But things like it are very common in novels,” insisted Tabitha. “And what is more likely for a man disappointed in love than, in desperation, to indenture himself?”
“I can easily credit a female of taste—yes, any female— refusing the ill-mannered, bold-staring rogue,” said Janice, giving the coarse osnaburg shirt she was working upon a fretted jerk; “but to suppose him to be capable of a grand, devoted passion is as bad as expecting—expecting faithfulness in a dog like Clarion.”