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It will take me in too, never fear, and make no words about it, and there will be none to pull me out. What do you say to that, Miss Compton ?' with a more desperate gleam in her grey eyes.
'I say “never,” Honor,' cried Iris, tightening her clasp on the woman with the heaving breast under the man's coat. What! you have still some feeling for your husband. I believe you love him in your inmost soul, and you would lay that on him—his and your shame, with a separation worse than if you were dead? Or you would fling your death at his door and bring the crime of murder to sit on his pillow. I would rather have suffered the cruellest injury, I would sooner have died a thousand innocent deaths in obedience to God's summons-not by rushing into His presence uncalled for and unprepared. Oh! woman, how could you think for an instant of doing such wrong ?'
Honor flinched at the cry, her flashing eyes fell, her hand shook, she writhed uneasily in Iris's hold.
Don't be so hard on me, Miss Compton,' she protested; 'I ain't given to thinking. I was wild with him and myself, and I just did the first thing that came into my head. But I didn't mean to hurt him like that. What can I do? It is past help now,' she said, with returning recklessness. “I'll go my ways where nobody will ever find me, and nobody will know whether I'm dead or alive, and, what's more, nobody will care, unless it may be father, in a sort.
That is not true,' said Iris. 'I should care; Sir William would care most of all. He did care for you, and chose you and went out of his place to marry you. I need not fear to offend you by saying it, for everybody knows it, you among the rest; and it should soften instead of hardening your heart, and make you proud instead of angry. I dare say you have tried him, though you might not always know it or mean it, and he has tried you. But though there is strife between you and miserable wrong and trouble, there is not the worst so that neither can forgive and forgetso that you may not go back to him and both think better of it and be happy yet, pled Iris, with the great tenderness and charity which have in them something of the divine.
Lady Thwaite's heart melted in its perversity, and it was with a groan she said,
flinging down the whip and striking her hands together:
'I can't–I can't. Happiness ain't for him and me. I daren't face him like this; he's mad now when he's roused. I put on Bill Rogers's clothes half for a lark, half to finish our misery somehow. You do be good and kind, but I have seen how you looked when you knowed me. You belong to the gentlefolks, and Will is part gentleman in spite of hisself. I can tell now how he'll take it. I'll not witness his hate and disgust—that is what it has come to-neither will I ax him to forgive me; it ain't in me. I can't go back.'
"Yes, you can ; for his sake if not for your own. It is his and your last chance; I am sure of it. I will go back with you. I am not frightened for his anger. We are not far from Whitehills, and I shall still get home to Lambford without keeping grandmamma waiting.'
The brave soul made a hasty little practical calculation, which was by no means uncalled for.
Lady Thwaite was still more shaken in her mind by Miss Compton's magnanimous offer. Little as Honor knew, she was sensible, not
only that Iris Compton was in the deepest earnest, but that she must feel convinced the fate, for life and death, of two of her fellowmortals hung in the balance, before she made the proposal.
It would make a sight of difference,' Honor allowed hesitatingly, “if the likes of you showed you didn't mind being seen with me in what was either a poor bit of a frolic, or a fit of moon-struck madness, I can't rightly tell which it were myself. If you did me the honour—I know it is an honour, though I ben't mannerly—of bearing me company, and calling at Whitehills, he might change his tune, for I know he thought a deal of you, though you gave him the sack—served him right!' exclaimed Honor hotly. "What call had he to even hisself to you, who weren't his price at no hand ? He were like me and my folk—he could tell that when he came to his senses ; and he never let your name pass his lips save once after he drew up with me. But it do seem mean like to let you, as is a real lady, lower yourself for them that ain't worth it.'
Lady Thwaite still hung back, her better nature reasserting itself.
Never mind me; I am not lowering myself; and you are worth—every human creature is worth-oh! how infinitely more in God's sight !' urged Iris, fearing the loss of the advantage she had gained. Come, Lady Thwaite,' she went on, as if she were impatient to go, we have no time to spare. You can understand that I must not keep Lady Fermor waiting dinner.'
“And you are in a mighty haste in case anybody should come along the road and light on we two, and me in a man's clothes,' said Lady Thwaite a little sarcastically, even while she turned and walked with a curious mixture of affront, humility, and pettishness beside Iris.
'I confess I am,' said Iris frankly; and her candour was another point in favour of her suit.
"I'll tell you what we'll do, miss,' said Lady Thwaite more briskly, when they had gone a little way. “If my master ain't about, we'll go round by one of them side doors, or by one of them ground-floor winders as is often left open handy, and I'll slip in, and nobody will be the wiser. If Bill have missed his best clothes, he won't peach on me, I