“But, dadda, he is now a lieutenant-colonel and—”
“Of what? Where ’s the honour in being in command of the riff-raff of the land? Dost not know that the most of their officers are made out of tapsters and tinkers and the like? Does it make a tavern idler or a bankrupt the less of either, that a pack of dunghills choose to dub him by another title? Once peace and law are come again, this same scalawag Brereton, or Fownes, or whatever he will then be, must return to my service and fulfil his bond, with a penalty of double time to boot. Proud ye’d be to see your spouse ordered to field or stable work every morning by my overseer!”
“’T would grieve me, dadda,” replied the girl, gently, “because I know how proud he is, and how it would make him suffer; but ’t would not lessen my respect or—or affection for him.”
“What?” snorted Mr. Meredith once more. “Dost mean to tell me that thy heart is in this?”
“I—indeed, dadda,” stammered Janice, colouring, “until— until this moment I thought ’t was only for yours and mommy’s sakes—though at times puzzled by—by I know not what —but now—”
“Well, out with it!” ordered the squire, as his daughter hesitated.
Janice faltered, then hurried to where her father sat, and, throwing herself on her knees, buried her face in his waistcoat. Something she said, but very sharp ears it needed to resolve the muffled sounds into the words, “Oh, dadda, I’m afraid that I care for him more than I thought.”
“What!” for a third time demanded Mr. Meredith. “’T is not possible I hear ye aright, girl. Why, a nine-months ago ye were beseeching me, with your arms about my neck, to fulfil my word to Phil.”
“But that was because I feared Lord Clowes,” eagerly explained Janice, with her face withdrawn from its screen; “and then I did not love—or at least did not dream that I did.”
“Pox me, but I believe Clowes is right when he says the sex are without stability,” growled the squire, irascibly. “Put this fellow out of your thoughts, and remember that ye were promised long since.”
“Oh, dadda, I want to be dutiful, and obedient I promise to be, but you would not have me marry with my heart given elsewhere. You could not be so cruel or—”
“Cease such bibble-babble, Jan. ’T is for your own good I am acting. Not merely is this fellow wholly beneath ye in birth and fortune, besides a rebel to our king, but there are facts about him of which ye have not cognisance that should serve to rouse your pride.”
“What say ye to an intimacy twixt this same Brereton and Mrs. Loring?”
With the question the girl was on her feet, yet with down-hung head. “He—I know he does not care for her,” she declared.
“Ye know nothing of the kind,” retorted the squire. “I bear in my pocket a letter from her to him of so private a nature that she would not trust it to a flag, because then it must be read, which Lord Clowes brought to me with the request that I would in some way smuggle it to him.”