“To treat me as if I was a slave. Why, Peg has more freedom than I have. If you—I’m going to the stable—to see Charles—and if you dare to follow me, I’ll—” The girl walked away and disappeared through the doorway, leaving Philemon standing by the box, the picture of indecision and anxiety. “He does n’t know that Charles was sent to the village,” thought Janice, laughing merrily to herself as she went to a stall, and pulling the horse’s head down put her cheek against it. “Oh, Joggles dear,” she sighed, “they are all against me but you.” She went from one horse to another, giving each a word and a caress. Then she stole back to the door and peeked through the crack, to find that her shadow had disappeared; this ascertained, she went and sat down on the hay. “If he tortures me, I’ll torture him,” was her thought.
Janice waited thus for but a few minutes, when she heard the rapid trot of a horse, which came to a halt at the stable door. As that sound ceased, the voice of Charles broke the silence, saying, “You stall the horse, while I see the squire;” and, in obedience to this direction, some one led Daisy into the stable. The gloom of nightfall made the interior too dark for the girl to recognise the man, and, not wishing it to be known that she was there, she sat quiet.
For a good ten minutes the man waited, whistling softly the while, before Charles returned.
“Waal, what luck?” asked the stranger ere Charles had come through the doorway.
“Luck!” growled the bondsman. “The devil’s own, as mine always is, curse it!”
“From which I calkerlate that old Meredith wuz obstinate and wud n’t set yer free.”
“Not he, plead my best. But that ’s the last I ask of him; and ’t would have served him as well to let me go, for go I will.”
“You’ll go off without—”
“Yer know what it means if brought back?”
“Double the time. Well, treble it, and still I’ll do it. I gave my word I’d help, and the general shall have the powder, if for nothing else than to spite that dirty coward Bagby though I serve thrice five years for’ t. Tell the lads I’ll lead them, and if they’ll meet me at Drigg’s barn to-morrow evening at ten we’ll scheme out how to do it.”
Without further parley the stranger walked away, and no sooner had the crunch of his boots ceased than Janice came forward.
Charles gave a startled exclamation as she appeared, and caught the girl roughly by the wrist. “Who’s this?” he exclaimed.
“You hurt,” complained Janice.
The bondsman relaxed but not released his hold at the sound of her voice. “You’ve heard all I said?” he demanded.
“Yes. I—I did n’t like to come out while the man was here.”
“And you’ll tell your father?”
“No,” denied the girl. “I did n’t want to listen by stealth, but since I did, I’m no tale-bearer.”
Raising the hand he held by the wrist, Charles kissed it. “I should have known you were no eavesdropper, Miss Janice,” he said, releasing his hold.