“Miss Janice,” called Phil, “you can’t go without—”
The girl faced about. “You men are all alike,” she cried, interrupting. “You tease and worry and torture a girl you pretend to care for, till ’t is past endurance. I hate you, and before I’ll—”
“Now, Miss Janice, say you’ll not run off with him. I’ll —I’ll try ter do as you ask, if only you—”
“So long as you—as you don’t—don’t bother me, I won’t,” promised Janice; “but the instant—”
And leaving the sentence thus broken, the girl left Philemon, and fled to her room.
The scheme devised by Janice to keep Philemon at arm’s length would hardly have succeeded for long, had not the squire been so preoccupied with the election and with the now active farm work that he paid little heed to the course of true love. Poor Phil was teased by him now and again for his “offishness;” but Janice carefully managed that their interviews were not held in the presence of her parents, and so the elders did not come to a realising sense of the condition, but really believed that the courtship was advancing with due progress to the port of matrimony.
Though this was a respite to Janice, she herself knew that it was at best the most temporary of expedients, and that the immediate press of affairs once over, her marriage with Philemon was sure to be pushed to a conclusion. Already her mother’s discussions of clothes, of linen, and of furniture were constant reminders of its imminence, and the mere fact that the servants of Greenwood and the neighbourhood accepted the matter as settled, made allusions to it too frequent for Janice not to feel that her bondage was inevitable. A dozen times a day the girl would catch her breath or pale or flush over the prospect before her, frightened, as the bird in the net, not so much by the present situation, as by what the future was certain to bring to pass.
A still more serious matter was further to engross her parents’ thoughts. One evening late in April, as the squire sat on the front porch resting from his day’s labour, Charles, who had been sent to the village on some errand, came cantering up the road, and drew rein opposite.
[Illustration: “The prisoner is gone!”]
“Have better care how ye ride that filly, sir,” said the squire, sharply. “I’ll not have her wind broke by hard riding.”
“I know enough of horses to do her no harm,” answered the man, dismounting easily and gracefully; “and if I rode a bit quick, ’t is because I’ve news that needs wings.”
“What’s to do?” demanded the master, laying down the “Rivington’s Royal Gazette” he had been reading.
“As I was buying the nails,” replied the servant, speaking with obvious excitement, “Mr. Bissel rode up to the tavern with a letter from the Massachusetts Committee of Safety to the southward; and as ’t was of some moment, while he baited, I took a copy of it.” The groom held out a paper, his hand shaking a little in his excitement, and with an eager look on his face he watched the squire read the following:—