“Dadda went to the window both times, but could see nothing.”
“He probably had time to hide behind the shrubs,” surmised Charles. “I shall set myself to watching, and I’ll warrant to catch the villain at it if he tries it again.” From the savageness with which he spoke, one would have inferred that he was bitterly enraged at any one spying through the parlour window on Miss Meredith’s evening hours.
“I wish you would,” solicited Janice. “For if it happened again, I don’t know what I should do. Mommy insisted it was n’t a ghost, and scolded me for screaming; but all the same, it gave me a dreadful turn. I did n’t go to sleep for hours.”
“I am sorry it frightened you,” said the servant, and then after a moment’s hesitation he continued, “’T was I, and if I had thought for a moment to scare you—”
“You!” cried Janice. “What were you doing there?”
The man looked her in the eyes while he replied in a low voice, “Looking at paradise, Miss Janice.”
“Janice Meredith,” said her mother’s voice, sternly, “thou good-for-nothing! Thou’st let the syrup burn, and the smell is all over the house. Charles, what dost thou mean by loafing indoors at this hour of the day? Go about thy work.”
And paradise dissolved into a pot of burnt syrup.
While Charles was within hearing, Mrs. Meredith continued to scold Janice about the burnt syrup, but this subject was ended with his exit. “I’m ashamed that a daughter of mine should allow a servant to be so familiar,” Mrs. Meredith began anew. “’T is a shame on us all, Janice. Hast thou no idea of what is decent and befitting to a girl of thy station?”
“He was n’t familiar,” cried Janice, angrily and proudly, “and you should know that if he had been I—he was telling me—”
“Yes,” cried her mother, “tell me what he was saying about paradise? Dost think me a nizey, child, not to know what men mean when they talk about paradise?”
Janice’s cheeks reddened, and she replied hotly, “If men talked to you about paradise, why should n’t they talk to me? I’m sure ’t is a pleasant change after the parson’s everlasting and eternal talk of an everlasting and eternal—”
“Don’t thee dare say it!” interrupted Mrs. Meredith. “Thou fallen, sin-eaten child! Go to thy room and stay there for the rest of the day. ’T is all of a piece that thou shouldst disgrace us by unseemly conduct with a stable-boy. Fine talk ’t will make for the tavern.”
The injustice and yet possible truth in this speech was too much for Janice to hear, and without an attempt at reply, she burst into a storm of tears and fled to her room.
Deprived of a listener, Mrs. Meredith sought the squire, and very much astonished him by a prediction that, “Thy daughter, Mr. Meredith, is going to bring disgrace on the family.”