Tongue-tied and doubly embarrassed by his calm scrutiny, the young lady stood with flushed cheeks, and with long black lashes dropped to hide a pair of very shamed eyes, the personification, in appearance, of guilt.
Whether the girl would have found her tongue, or would have ended the incident as she was longing to do by taking to her heels, it is impossible to say. Ere she had time to do either, the angry voice of the squire broke in upon them.
“Ho, there ye are! Twice have I looked for ye this afternoon, and I warn ye I’m not the man to take such conduct from any one, least of all from one of my own servants,” he said as he came toward the pair, the emphasis of his walking stick and his heels both telling the story of his anger. “What mean ye, fellow,” he continued, “by neglecting the work I set ye?”
Absolutely unmoved by the reproof, Charles stood as heedless of it as he had been of the outstretched hand of the daughter, a hand which had promptly disappeared in the folds of Miss Meredith’s skirt at the first sound of her father’s voice.
“A taste of my walking stick ye should have if ye had your deserts!” went on the squire, now face to face with the servant.
Without taking his eyes from the girl, Charles laughed. “Is it fear of me,” he challenged, “or fear of the law that prevents you?”
“What know ye of the law, sirrah?” demanded Mr. Meredith.
“Nothing, when I was fool enough to indenture myself,” snapped the servant; “but Bagby tells me that ’t is forbidden, under penalty of fine, for a master to strike a servant.”
“Joe Bagby!” roared the squire, more angry than ever. “And how come ye to have anything to do with that scampy lawyer! Hast been up to some mischief already?”
Again the man laughed. “That is for His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace to discover. Till they do, I shall maintain that I consulted him concerning the laws governing bond-servants.”
“A pretty state the country ’s come to!” raged the squire. “No wonder there is no governing the land, when even servants think to have the law against their masters. But, harkee, my fine fellow. If I may not punish ye myself, the Justices may order ye whipped, and unless ye change your manners I will have ye up before their next sitting. Meantime, saddle Joggles as soon as supper is done, and take this paper over to Brunswick, and post it on the proclamation board of the Town Hall. And no tarrying, and consulting of tricky lawyers, understand. If ye are not back by nine, ye shall hear from me.”
Striking a sunflower with his cane as a slight vent to his anger, the master strode away to the house.
His back turned. Janice once again held out the miniature. “Won’t you please take it?” she begged.
“Art tired of it already?” jeered the man.
“I did not take it, Charles,” she stammered, “but I knew of its taking and so brought it back to you.”