So long as the squire continued to express his rage and to threaten the bystanders with various penalties, the crowd stood about in obvious enjoyment, but anger that only excites amusement in others very quickly burns itself out, and in this particular case the chill of the snow on which the squire was sitting was an additional cause for a rapid cooling. Within two minutes his vocabulary had exhausted itself and he relapsed into silence. The fun being over, the crowd began to scatter, the older ones betaking themselves indoors while the youngsters waylaid Charles, as he came from hitching the horses, and suggested a drill.
The bondsman shook his head and walked to the squire. “Any orders, Mr. Meredith?” he asked.
“Get an axe and smash this—thing to pieces.”
“They would not let me,” replied the man, shrugging his shoulders. “Hadst best do as they want, sir. You can’t fight the whole county.”
“I’ll never yield,” fumed the master.
Charles again shrugged his shoulders, and walking back to the group, said, “Get your firelocks.”
In five minutes forty men were in line on the green, and as the greatest landholder of the county sat in the stocks, in a break-neck attitude, with a chill growing in fingers and toes, he was forced to watch a rude and disorderly attempt at company drill, superintended by his own servant. It was a clumsy, wayward mass of men, and frequent revolts from orders occurred, which called forth sharp words from the drill-master. These in turn produced retorts or jokes from the ranks that spoke ill for the discipline, and a foreign officer, taking the superficial aspect, would have laughed to think that such a system could make soldiers. Further observation and thought would have checked his amused contempt, for certain conditions there were which made these men formidable. Angry as they became at Fownes, not one left the ranks, though presence was purely voluntary, and scarce one of them, ill armed though he might be, but was able to kill a squirrel or quail at thirty paces.
When the drill had terminated, a result due largely to the smell of cooking which began to steal from the houses facing the green, Charles drew Bagby aside, and after a moment’s talk, the two, followed by most of the others, crossed to the squire.
“Mr. Meredith,” said Charles, “I’ve passed my word to Bagby that you’ll pay your share if he’ll but release you, and that you won’t try to prosecute him. Wilt back up my pledge?”
The prisoner, though blue and faint with cold, shook his head obstinately.
“There! I told you how it would be,” sneered Bagby.
“But I tell you he’ll be frosted in another hour. ’T will be nothing short of murder, man.”
“Then let him contribute his share,” insisted Bagby.
“’T is unfair to force a man on a principle.”
“Look here,” growled Bagby. “We are getting tired of your everlasting hectoring and attempting to run everything. Just because you know something of the manual don’t make you boss of the earth.”