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great hulking fellow like him doing, dropping after the fashion of a stone into a pool of standing water, and suffering himself to be rescued by a woman-unless he did it on purpose—what was he good for if he could not take care of himself ? Certainly, if he is not useful, he cannot be called ornamental. But if it had been some neat, pretty girl, dressmaker's assistant, or sewing-maid, or head-waitress in a restaurant, whose smartness and mock jewellery a man of low origin on the whole, and no education to speak of, might have mistaken for the real things, I could have understood it better; for such esclandres, however deplorable, do happen, now and then, among people one knows. But a masculine creature such as this woman Smith is, I am told, as bad as a gipsy, who consorts with poachers—indeed, she was to have married a wretched young fellow who died in gaol-only the lowest, most depraved instincts, I am afraid, could have exposed a man to danger from such a quarter. Her father has been suspected of underhand dealings with poachers and with game-shops in Birkett and Cavesham ; I know her brothers went all wrong years ago.'
How do you know? inquired Lady Fermor ungraciously.
Oh, I used to hear everything about our people when I was at Whitehills. Most unfortunately it was a hobby of poor Sir John's, after his mind had begun to fail a little, that Waterpark, the head-keeper, and a capable, trustworthy 'man, but comparatively a newcomer, trumped up stories and bore a grudge against Smith, who had lived all his life on the estate, whom Sir John remembered from a boy. So he was allowed to remain in a cottage like an Irish hovel at Hawley Scrub. The girl has grown up there, and ranged in the preserves, and over the downs, at all hours, wearing a black gown, and some yellow or red rag of a handkerchief round her throat or over her head. I think it must be an affectation of a gipsy costume, or in rude coquetry, for she is not bad-looking in that style. They say that she can not only fire a gun and throw a line, but swallow a glass of spirits undiluted without a cough, and swear an oath like a man. It is too horrible to think of her as Lady Thwaite,' protested the prospective dowager.
In fact, she was so overcome between the
idea and the heat of the room that she took up a bottle of the old Jockey Club scent, and began to pour it over her handkerchief, though she hated the perfume. All would not do to put down the image of Iris Compton in her fair, slender, delicate-minded, almost austere maidenliness, as it rose up in broad contrast before the speaker's mind..
You might have spared yourself the horror of thinking it all over again, and your breath the pain of telling it to me,' said Lady Fermor coolly; 'I know all about the woman. My unworldly saint and dutiful innocent of a grand-daughter picked up an acquaintance with this Honor Smith which I forbade years ago. . But I'll put you right on one point, Lady Thwaite. Men who are men, like Thwaite, ain't always caught by soft skins, dainty tongues, and a few trumpery accomplishments. They sometimes look for bone and sinew, ay, and courage and daring in the women they care for, as well as in the horses they squander their means and their lives on. What pretty nursemaid or sewing-girl could have had the pluck and strength to help to drag a drowning man of Thwaite's weight out of a bottomless pit of mud, like some of the ponds here ? All the same, he is raving mad, and will be a lost man, if he go on to reward me and punish a doll of a young lady, as he proposes to do. Here is Soames with my shawls; I must not keep you longer, Lady Thwaite.'
When Lady Thwaite was gone, as Lady Fermor was slowly descending the stairs to depart on her mission, she encountered her grand-daughter coming up. Iris had been away in other regions all the morning. She had not been aware of Lady Thwaite's visit, or heard the most distant sough of her news, though the hall and kitchen, which had come into contact with Lady Thwaite's groom, were already ringing with the tidings. Iris had not only her hands but her arms full of ferns, which she had been gathering in the park, and was intending to use according to some incontrovertible art formula. She was singing softly to herself an old English song :
• Be she fairer than the day,
Or the dewy meads in May,
What care I how fair she be ?'
Grandmamma,' she exclaimed, 'going out just now! Do you not wish me to accom
pany you? Do you know there is a storm brewing? I came in because the sky looked quite lurid.'
'Get out of my way, Iris,' said Lady Fermor savagely; and if I find what I expecta man worth a dozen of you doomed to be ruined body and soul, made dead to the world henceforth, by your virtuous, godly doing-I warn you, girl, to keep out of my sight for some time to come!
Iris, amazed and aghast, was pushed aside by the weak arm, and stood leaning against the banisters till her grandmother had disappeared. Then the girl began to creep slowly up to her own room, hanging her head, with half of her brittle-stemmed ferns broken and crushed in her tightened grasp.
To Iris's fresh astonishment and apprehension, Soames, after she had seen Lady Fermor into the carriage, followed Iris, and sought admission to her.
Soames was not a favourite in the house. She was a hard-featured, cold-natured woman. The impression was that so much was taken out of her to enable her to keep her post to the last by Lady Fermor, so as to entitle her to the annuity which was believed to be