During the first days in their new domiciliary, Janice showed the utmost nervousness, seldom leaving her mother’s or father’s side, and never venturing into the hallways without a previous peep to see that they were empty. As the weeks wore on without any attempt on the commissary’s part to surprise her into a tete-a-tete, to recur to the words he had forced her to utter, or to be anything but a polite, entertaining, and thoughtful host, the girl gained courage, and little by little took life more equably. She would have been been less easy, though better able to understand his conduct, had she overheard or had repeated to her a conversation between Lord Clowes and her father on the day that they first took up their new abode.
“A beggar’s thanks are lean ones, Clowes,” the squire had said, over the wine; “but if ever the dice cease from throwing me blanks, ye shall find that Lambert Meredith has not forgot your loans of home and money.”
“Talk not to me in such strain, Meredith,” replied the host, with the frank, hearty manner he could so well command. “I ask no better payment than your company, but ’t is in your power to shift the debt onto my shoulders at any time, and by a single word at that.”
“It has scarce slipped thy memory that in a moment’s mistrust of thee—which I now concede was both unfriendly and unjustifiable—I sought to run off with thy beautiful maid. She was ready to marry me out of hand; but give thy consent as well, and I shall be thy debtor for life.”
“Ye know—” began Mr. Meredith.
[Illustration: “Who are you?”]
“And what is more,” went on the suitor, “though ’t is not for me to make boast, I can assure ye that Lord Clowes is no bad match. In the last two years I’ve salted down nigh sixty thousand pounds in the funds and bank stock.”
“Adzooks!” aspirated the squire. “How did ye that?”
“Hah, hah!” laughed the commissary, triumphantly. “That is what it is to play the cards aright. ’T was all from being carried on that cursed silly voyage to the Madeiras which at that moment I deemed the work of the Evil One himself. I could get but a passage to Halifax, and by luck I arrived there just as Sir William put in with the fleet from Boston. We had done a stroke or two of business in former times, and so I was able to gain his ear, and unfold a big scheme to him.”
“And what was that?”
“Hah! a great scheme,” reiterated Clowes, smacking his lips, after a long swallow of spirits. “Says I, make me commissary-general, and I’ll make our fortunes. We’ll impress food and forage, and the government shall pay us for every pound of—”
“’T was madness,” broke in Mr. Meredith. “Dost not know that nothing has so stirred the people as the taking their crops without payment?”
“Like as not,” assented the commissary; “but ’t is also the way to subdue them. They began a war, and they must pay the usual penalty until they are sickened of it. And since the seizures were to be made, ’t was too good a chance not to turn an honest penny. Pray Heaven they don’t lay down their arms too soon, for I ambition to be wealthier still. Canst hope better for your daughter than that she be made Lady Clowes, and rich to boot?”