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BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

CHAPTER XVII.

HAY-MAKING AT WHITEHILLS.

IRIS awoke next morning from an unsatisfying sleep, in which she was haunted by a vague sense of something wrong, some impending family strife and convulsion. She did not feel the slightest necessity for being gradually lowered into a wholesomely sober and tranquil mood. She was as low as she could be without the tranquillity, amidst the sense of vanity of vanities, among the stale and flat relics which are apt to belong to the ball of last night, though at twenty-one the languor of fatigue is not added to the debt which has to be paid.

There was no use in Iris's thinking of not
VOL. II.

21

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going to Whitehills, however awkward and terrible the hay-making might present itself to her in anticipation.

She could not feign bodily illness which she did not feel, and though she had felt it, she had a vivid perception that Lady Fermor, who was out of humour already, would have scouted any ailment short of the disfiguring eruption of small-pox or the dangerous revelations of delirious fever. She would have dragged Iris in her train to Whitehills a half dead offering to its master, should he condescend to accept it.

Iris could not beg off from the expedition like the Mildmays -- Mrs. Mildmay on the score of a severe headache, and Mr. Mildmay because he had business letters to answer, and some other things to attend to, before he left with his wife next day.

More prying to do,' Lady Fermor commented behind his back. Well, they are no loss, à couple of kill-joys, he with his stupid pomposity, and she with her die-away airs.'

Tom Mildmay's excuse to himself was : That match is not made up yet, from what I saw last night, and surely I am not called upon to put myself out of my way to push

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the girl's interests or hatch the old woman's chickens.'

There was only one small comfort of which Iris could avail herself. She arrived at a clear understanding with Lucy Acton, as she had come to an explanation with Lady Thwaite.

There is not one word of truth in the story that I am to marry Sir William Thwaite,' she impressed on Lucy with solemn earnestness; only I fear grandmamma wishes it,' she added, with a fall in her voice and an involuntary tight interlacing of her fingers. “But I could not do it, even for grandmamma; my duty to her and to poor grandpapa does not absolve me from my duty to myself, to. Sir William, and to God, Lucy. He ordained marriage as the nearest, most sacred tie, a relationship we might not enter into lightly, with divided minds. Think how unlike Sir William and I are, with not a taste, very likely not an opinion or principle, in common.'

Lucy listened, startled, while Iris continued to speak in the same unnaturally grave, almost portentous, tones.

'I don't mean that he is a bad man ; very likely he is far better than I am, since he has

stood so great a change in his fortunes without breaking out into any extravagant or outrageous conduct. But have you forgotten how we used to talk of him, and laugh and wonder whether he would put his hat under his chair, and what he would do with his gloves and handkerchief? asked Iris, with a reproachful, wavering smile. "A worse than half educated, under-bred man—a man rustic and dull, as one might fairly expect, and very possibly arrogant and vulgar-minded, though he has had no great opportunity of showing it, and I never suspected it till last night,' said Iris in her truthfulness. “Oh! Lucy, how could I marry such a man? How could you ever think it ?

'I beg your pardon, dear, if I have hurt you,' Lucy apologised in a convicted voice. She was sorry, not only because she had brought herself the length of making up her mind to the match, hardly for the sake of her subscription lists, since, to do her justice, Lucy was a good deal more of a woman than a secretary, but because she happened to be a practical sensible girl, largely trusted by her elders. Young though she was, she knew something of the sad reasons, with which Iris

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