“’T was one of—”
“Charles, get out of that sleigh,” ordered Mrs. Meredith, sharply. “Learn thy place, sir. Janice, thou ’rt quite old enough to take care of thyself. We’ll have no whispering or coddling, understand.”
The bondsman sullenly obeyed, and a moment later the sleigh started. The servant looked wistfully after it until the sound of the bells was lost, and then, with a sigh, he went to his work.
With all the vantage of the daylight start, it took good driving among the drifts to get over the twenty-eight miles that lay between Greenwood and Trenton before the universal noon dinner, and as the sleigh drew up at the Drinkers’ home on the main street of the village, the meal was in the air if not on the table.
[Illustration: “You set me free.”]
For this reason the two girls had not a chance for a moment’s confidence before dinner; and though Janice was fairly bursting with all that had happened since Tibbie’s visit, the departure of the squire for Burlington immediately the meal was ended, and the desire of Tabitha’s father and aunt to have news of Mrs. Meredith and of the doings “up Brunswick way,” filled in the whole afternoon till tea time—if the misnomer can be used, for, unlike the table at Greenwood, tea was a tabooed article in the Drinker home. One fact worth noting about the meal was that Janice asked if any of them knew who Thalia was.
“Ay,” said Mr. Drinker, “and the less said of her the better. She was a lewd creature that—”
“Mr. Drinker!” cried Tabitha’s aunt. “Thee forgets there are gentlewomen present. Wilt have some preserve, Janice?”
“No, I thank you,” said the girl. “I’m not hungry.” And she proved it by playing with what was on her plate for the rest of the meal.
Not till the two girls retired did they have an opportunity to exchange confidences. The moment they were by themselves, Tabitha demanded, “What made thee so serious to-night?”
“Oh, Tibbie,” sighed Janice, dolefully,” I’m very unhappy!”
“I—he—Charles—I’m afraid he—and yet—’T is something he wrote, but whether in joke or—Mr. Evatt said he insulted me at the tavern—Yet ’t is so pretty that—and mommy interrupted just—”
“What art thou talking about, Jan?” exclaimed Tibbie.
Janice even in her disjointed sentences had begun to unlace her travelling bodice,—for with a prudence almost abnormal this one frock was not cut low,—and she now produced from her bosom a paper which she unfolded, and then offered to Tibbie with a suggestion of hesitation, asking “Dost think he meant to insult me?”
Tabitha eagerly took the sheet, and read—
These lines to her my passion tell,
Describe the empire of her spell;
A love which naught will e’er dispel,
That flames for sweetest Thalia.