“Oh, I’ll not trouble thee,” protested Janice, blocking the entrance, “just hand them to me.”
“Nay, ’t is no trouble,” the officer assured her, setting one foot over the sill. “And, besides, I have word of your father to tell ye.”
Reluctantly the maiden gave him passage, and pointed out a place of deposit in the entry for his burden. Then she fell back to the staircase, and went up a few steps. Yet she eagerly questioned: “What of my father?”
Clowes came to the foot of the ascent. “He is on one of the transports in the lower Delaware, and as soon as we can reduce the rebel works, and break through their cursed chevaux-de-frise, he will come up to Philadelphia.”
“Oh,” almost carolled Janice, “what joyous news!”
“And does the bringer deserve no reward?”
“For that, and for the food, I thank you deeply,
Clowes,” said the girl, warmly.
“I’m not the man to take my pay in mere lip music,” answered the commissary. “Harkee, Miss Meredith, there is a limit to my forbearance of thy skittishness. Thou wast ready enough to wed me once, and I have never released thee from the bargain. Henceforth I expect a lover’s privileges until they can be made those of a husband.” Clowes took two steps, upward.
“I think, Lord Clowes, that ’t is hardly kind of you to remind me of my shame,” replied Janice, with a gentle dignity very close to tears. “Deceitful I was and disobedient, and no one can blame me more than I have come to blame myself. But you are not the one to speak of it nor to pretend that my giddy conduct was any pledge.”
“Then am I to understand that I was lover enough when thy needs required it, but that now I am to be jilted?” demanded the man, harshly.
“Your version is a cruel one that I am sure you cannot think just.”
“Ye hold to it that ye are not bound to me?”
The commissary fell back to where he had set the baskets. “In your necessity ye felt otherwise, and I advise ye to remember that ye still require my aid. I am not one of those who lavish favours and expect no return, though a good friend to those who make it worth my while. If I am to have naught from ye, ye shall have naught from me.” He picked up the baskets. “Here is milk, bread, meat, jellies, and wines, to be had for a price, and only for a price.”
“Oh, prithee, Lord Clowes,” begged Janice, despairingly, “you cannot seek to advantage yourself of my desperate plight. All I had to give my mother this morning was some water gruel, and I have not tasted food myself for a twenty-four hours.”
“Your anxiety for your mother cannot be over great. I only ask ye to avow that ye consented to become my wife, and should have done so, had we been left free.”
The girl wavered; then buried her face in her hands, and in a scarcely audible voice said: “I did intend—for a brief space—did think to—to marry you.”