“He, he, he!” snickered the elder Hennion. “Gals hain’t changed much since I wuz a-courtin’. They allus make aout ter be desprit set agin the fellers an’ mortal daown on marryin’, but, lordy me! if the men held off the hussies ’ud do the chasm’.”
“Thee knows, Lambert,” remarked his better half, “that I think Janice would get more discipline and greater godliness in—”
“I tell ye he sha’n’t have her,” broke in the squire. “No man who preaches against me shall have my daughter; no, not if ’t were Saint Paul himself.”
“For her eventual good I—”
“Damn her eventual—”
“I fear ’t will come to that.”
“Well, well, Patty, perhaps it will,” acceded the squire. “But since ’t is settled already by foreordination, let the lass have a good time before it comes. Wouldst rather marry the parson than Phil, Janice?”
“I don ’t want to marry any one,” cried the girl, beginning to sob.
“A stiff-necked child thou art,” said her mother, sternly. “Dost hear me?”
“Yes, mommy,” responded a woful voice.
“And dost intend to be obedient?”
“Yes, mommy,” sobbed the girl.
“Then if thee’ll not give her to the parson, Lambert, ’t is best that she marry Philemon. She needs a husband to rule and chasten her.”
“Then ’t is a bargain, Hennion,” said Mr. Meredith, offering a hand each to father and son.
“Yer see, Phil, it ’s ez I told yer,” cried the elder. “Naow hev dun with yer stand-offishness an’ buss the gal. Thet ’ere is the way ter please them.”
Philemon faltered, glancing from one to another, for Janice was bent low over her work and was obviously weeping,— facts by no means likely to give courage to one who needed that element as much as did the suitor.
“A noodle!” sniggered Mr. Hennion. “’T ain’t ter be wondered at thet she don’t take ter yer. The jades always snotter first off but they ’d snivel worse if they wuz left spinsters—eh, squire?”
Thus encouraged, Phil shambled across the room and put his hand on the shoulder of the girl. At the first touch Janice gave a cry of desperation, and springing to her feet she fled toward the hall, her eyes still so full of tears that she did not see that something more than the door intervened to prevent her escape. In consequence she came violently in contact with Charles, and though to all appearance he caught her in his arms only to save her from falling, Janice, even in her despair, was conscious that there was more than mere physical support. To the girl it seemed as if an ally had risen to her need, and that the moment’s tender clasp of his arms was a pledge of aid to a sore-stricken fugitive.
“How now!” cried the squire. “Hast been listening, fellow?”
“I did not like to interrupt,” said Charles, drily.
“I sent for ye, because I’m told ye’ve been inciting rebellion against the king.”