Mrs. Bell began to remonstrate feebly. "Lydia, don't be harsh on my little Mercy," she began. "I like to have her along o' me. I'm mostly alone, and the child makes company."
"Cecile D'Albert," he said passionately, "I'd rayther be cut in little bits nor touch that purse o' gold. You're quite, quite right, little Missie, it 'ud break my heart."
But, as I said, an unlooked-for danger was nearâ€”a danger, too, which had followed her all the way from Warren's Grove. Lydia Purcell had always been very particular whom she engaged to work on Mrs. Bell's farm, generally confining herself to men from the same shire. But shortly before the old lady's death, being rather short of hands to finish the late harvest, a tramp from some distant part of the country had offered his services. Lydia, driven to despair to get a certain job finished before the weather finally broke, had engaged him by the week, had found him an able workman, and had not ever learned to regret her choice. The man, however, was disliked by his fellow-laborers. They called him a foreigner, and accused him of being a sneak and a spy. All these charges he denied stoutly; nevertheless they were true. The man was of Norman-French birth. He had drifted over to England when a lad. His parents had been respectable farmers in Normandy. They had educated their son; he was clever, and had the advantage of knowing both French and English thoroughly. Nevertheless he was a bad fellow. He consorted with rogues; he got into scrapes; many times he saw the inside of an English prison. But so plausible was Simon Wattsâ€”as he called himself on the Warren's Grove farmâ€”that Aunt Lydia was completely taken in by him. She esteemed him a valuable servant, and rather spoiled him with good living. Simon, keeping his own birth for many reasons a profound secret, would have been more annoyed than gratified had he learned that the children on the farm were also French. He heard this fact through an accident on the night of their departure. It so happened that Simon slept in a room over the stable where the pony was kept; and Jane Parsons, in going for this pony to harness him to the light cart, awoke Simon from his light slumber. He came down to find her harnessing Bess; and on his demanding what she wanted with the pony at so very early an hour, she told him in her excitement rather more of the truth than was good for him to know.