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me where you are going in this outrageous guise ; whether Sir William—your husband knows, gasped Iris.
What business have you or any other woman to come atween me and my husband ? to seek to know our affairs? No, miss; I'm obliged to you for desiring to satisfy your curiosity, but if you don't take off your hand I'll be forced to free myself, and I don't want to hurt you.'
'I know you don't,' said Iris, pressing close to the desperate woman, instead of drawing away from her. "You were fond of me, long ago. We were both fond of each other, if we had been suffered to grow up friends. You came to me with your little presents—I was thinking of one last night, bunches of dry sea-grapes, that I might put them into my fire and hear them go off like a succession of small shots — don't you remember? They were all given for such a little service. I, a child, was amazed at your generosity. Oh! Lady Thwaite, it is not curiosity—it is not even a spirit of interference ; but, indeed, you don't know, you can't guess, what people will think and say if they see you like this.' .'I don't care what they say; let 'em. I am sorry—a little—that you should think bad of me, but for the rest of the world they may think and say what they please,' said Honor scornfully, in spite of a little softening to begin with, as she switched the hedge with the whip in her disengaged hand.
• But Sir William will care. Men — the best of them cannot stand harm said of the women who are near and dear to them,' pled Iris.
"You seem to know,' said Lady Thwaite, taking refuge in insolence, and tossing her head till she had nearly lost her chimney-pot hat. “But I've always said I ain't any man's slave, and what is more, I ain't going to be. I don't believe he minds ; and what right have he to meddle when I don't set eyes upon him for nigh a week at a time, because he is living in one ale-house or another, sitting swilling ale or brandy with all the low raff he can find to drink with him at his expense, making a sot of hisself worse than a brute beast ? What do you think of that, Miss Compton, in a man as boasted of your acquaintance once on a day?
'I think it is the saddest, most terrible story I have ever known,' said Iris, with a
shudder and eyes full of grief and horror. ' But will it mend the wrong for you to be so reckless ?'
'I ain't doing anything so far amiss,' asserted Lady Thwaite sullenly; I have only helped myself to Bill Rogers's best suit for a change and a bit of a lark in my dull life. Being a lady, even when a woman can do as she likes, and ain't yoked to a gentleman, or bothered by gentlefolks' notice, don't turn out the fun it promised. Life at Hawley Scrub were a deal livelier and fuller of things happening. Bill won't heed my making free with his clothes—even his best groom's suit; he ain't an unfriendly chap, except that he's stuck up with solemn notions of duty, and full of starch of manners, and nonsense. If it had been anybody save you, miss, I would have challenged him or her to deny that I set off a groom's livery,' insisted Lady Thwaite, with a jaunty pose of her fine figure and handsome face. “I'm cock-sure you never would have knowed me from a man, if summat had not possessed you to stare right into my face. It ain't the first time I've guised in men's clothes, though I did it for a purpose then, and I did not try it on in broad
daylight before. Women has done it sometimes, Miss Compton, you know, and run off to sea or to the wars before the trick was discovered; but there ain't no such luck in store for me, and this ain't the right rig, or a very good fit neither. Bill ain't my build, I'm nearer Will's.'
She stopped abruptly. She had been running on in flippant chatter, while Iris stood looking at her in piteous wonder. Now when the truant turned her head aside, Iris spoke again still more firmly.
I believe you are wearing this coat to-day for a purpose, Lady Thwaite. It cannot be a good purpose. I beseech you to stop before it is too late.' .
“There ain't no use in stopping,' said Honor doggedly. You cannot prevent me doing my will. But I'll tell you the truth of my own accord, since you seem to care what becomes of me, which others as might, don't no longer. He's been at home and asleep all the morning, and he'll get up as cross as a bear afore he goes off again. But I've stole a march upon him,' with a shade of triumph and cunning in her tone. He forgot hisself. the last time we had words—which were no
farther gone than late last night, and swore he would lock me up if I went near Guilds' folk again. It were Satan reproving sin, after the company he has been keeping. I will see every Guild-man and woman-if I like, for the sake of one as bore the name and worshipped the ground I trod on, instead of taking me up and casting me down, and being ashamed of me like a cursed fine gentleman, for all he pretended to be one of the people. I was afeard he might be about by this time and see me from his winder, or the terrace, and give chase, and demean hisself to lift his hand to a woman, though I don't take no pride in belonging to the weaker sex. I ain't entitled to. I'm as strong as most men, but Will is more than my match. So I borrowed Bill's toggery without leave, and now I am bound either for Guilds' cottage, where they'll take me in however I like to come, and make me as bad as theirselves, I dare say—but they will not look down on me; or maybe I'll go to Hawley Scrub, as the fancy takes me. I were always a fanciful lass if you'll believe me. Father's from home over at Birkett; but the pond's there where Will and me first set eyes on each other, after I had drawed him out.