“’T was not from Mr. Evatt,” denied the servant.
Without time for thought, Janice blurted out, “Then ’t is from you?” and the groom nodded his head.
“What nonsense is this?” cried Mr. Meredith. “Dost mean to say ’t is from ye? Whence came the picture?”
“I was the limner,” replied Charles.
“What clanker have we here?” exclaimed the squire.
“’T is no lie, Mr. Meredith,” answered the servant. “In England I’ve drawn many a face, and ’t was even said in jest that I might be a poor devil of an artist if ever I quitted the ser—quitted service.”
“And where got ye the colours?”
“When I went to Princeton with the shoats I found Mr. Peale painting Dr. Witherspoon, and he gave me the paints and the ivory.”
“Ye’ll say I suppose too that ye wrote this,” demanded the squire, indicating the letter.
“I’ll not deny it.”
“Though ye could not sign the covenant?”
Fownes once more shrugged his shoulders. “’T is a fool would sign a bond,” he asserted.
“Better a fool than a knave,” retorted Mr. Meredith, angered by Charles’ manner. “Janice, give the rogue back the letter and picture. No daughter of Lambert Meredith accepts gifts from her father’s bond-servants.”
The man flushed, while evidently struggling to control his temper, and Janice, both in pity for him, as well as in desire for possession of the picture, for gifts were rare indeed in those days, begged—
“Oh, dadda, mayn’t I keep it?”
“Mr. Meredith,” said Charles, speaking with evident repression, “the present was given only with the respect—” he hesitated as if for words and then continued—“the respect a slave might owe his—his better. Surely on this day it should be accepted in the same spirit.”
“What day mean ye?” asked Mr. Meredith.
The servant glanced at each face with surprise on his own. When he read a question in all, he asked in turn, “Hast forgotten ’t is Christmas?”
Mrs. Meredith, who was still holding the portrait, dropped it on the floor, as if it were in some manner dangerous. “Christmas!” she cried. “Janice, don’t thee dare touch the—”
“Oh, mommy, please,” beseeched the girl.
“Take it away, Charles,” ordered Mrs. Meredith. “And never let me hear of thy being the devil’s deputy again. We’ll have no papish mummery at Greenwood.”
The servant sullenly stooped, picked up the slip of ivory without a word, and turned to leave the room. But as he reached the door, Philemon found tongue.
“I’ll trade that ’ere for the fowlin’-piece you set such store by,” he offered.
The bondsman turned in the doorway and spoke bitterly. “This is to be got for no mess of pottage, if it is scorned,” he said.
“I don’t scorn—” began Janice, but her father broke in there.
“Give it me, fellow!” ordered the squire. “No bond-servant shall have my daughter’s portrait.”