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ain't anything like right-down wicious, bless you, only restless and full of jibbing and bolting, because she weren't ever broken in or trained to go in barness. If you will forgive me, miss, for saying so much, since Jenny has told me the kind young lady you are, you may care to hear what a comfort it is to a stupid block as ain't much good, to find the likes of you showing mercy and holding out your hand to his betters.'
Iris did not preach what she would not practise. She carried the head that was beginning to ache, and the heart to flutter, and the little white face where they would meet no pity from Lady Fermor.
The old woman, in her shawls and wraps, was already in the dining-room, sitting at the head of the table, though the second dinnerbell had not rung. She had been fuming over Iris's unusually prolonged absence, and had stolen a march upon her in order to convict her of being too late. Lady Fermor was in an additional wrath with the cook for not having the dinner ready before the appointed hour. 'Good heavens, child! where have you been?' she demanded angrily. “I thought you had run away, and, upon my word, you
look like it; only,' she added cynically, regardless of the fact that the cut she was about to give ought to have wounded herself first, penetrating through the thick coarse skin till it reached a vital part, 'when the members of our family run away they are not like the lost halfpenny—they never come back again.'
'I am very sorry I have made you anxious, grandmamma. I am glad you have not waited for me,' began Iris a little breathlessly.
'If you think I was anxious about your white kitten's face you are very much mistaken. I was only anxious for our credit, which, being brittle ware, needs to be carefully handled. No, I have not waited for you; why should I? But where have you been dawdling?. Out with it. A lad would have spoken at once, and though he had been at more mischief, at least it would have been in manly scrapes, not wretched girlish trifling and pottering.'
I was at Whitehills.' *At Whitehills! Are you crazy?' cried Lady Fermor incredulously.
"No. I went there with Lady Thwaite.' : 'Lady Thwaite! What! has she returned ? I thought she was still in Rome. And what the dickens did she mean by carrying you VOL. II.
there? To cloak her own hypocrisy and greed in going into low company. Of course, I should have forbidden it if anybody had thought it worth while to ask my leave. It was the height of impertinence in Lady Thwaite to take you anywhere without getting my consent. Iris, you are even sillier and more stupid than I could have imagined you. I must bestir myself in my old age and tie you to my apron-string.'
'I was not with that Lady Thwaite,' said Iris, with dry lips; 'not with your Lady Thwaite, Sir John's widow ; she has not come home that I know of. I was with Sir William's wife.'
Girl ! exclaimed Lady Fermor, striking the table with her closed hand, and said no more.
Grandmamma, I could not help it. I met her as I was coming home from the Rectory. I knew her though she was in man's clothesI am sorry to say—in her groom's clothes. I had to stop her. She admitted two thingsshe was going to the Guilds—I don't know if you remember them; they are the worst family in the parish, and I had just heard the Actons say that the very worst Guild of all, the man
Sir William Thwaite threatens to bring before the justices, has been boasting in the village that he could get Lady Thwaite to come to him at any place, at any hour, by a wag of his finger, because she was once to have married his brother Hughie, and because she has set herself against her husband. She was either going to the Guilds to compromise herself beyond redemption, or she would have drowned herself in the pond at Hawley Scrub. I could not walk past and let her go on to sin, or turn aside to die. You know I could not, if it was possible for me to help her. I got her to return home with me, and I think that she and Sir William have made up their quarrel, and may do better yet. He sent the carriage home with me. That is all.'
“All! I should say it was, gasped Lady Fermor in one of the furies which were restrained perforce, and were so much more terrible for their restraint, because they contended with the weakness of age, and made her look like a devil-possessed mummy gnashing her teeth, but unable to do more. "How dare you come to me with such a vile story? What had you to do with these people, unless, indeed, that you were at the bottom of all this
mischief and misery? Like the wilful, insolent chit you were, you drove the fellow to a low barbarian of a wife, and to drink. You lost your one chance; you made me the laughingstock of the neighbourhood, and I bore it without lifting my hand to strike you, or turn you from my doors. As if that were not enough, and too much for my poor patience, you go and make friends with this creature of the highways and hedges. You are not deterred from meeting her, like the disgrace to her sex that she is, in man's clothes; and where any other girl of your rank who made any pretence to delicacy-to common decency, would have felt shocked, or pretended it at least, and would have crossed to the other side of the road, and looked in the air or on the ground till the woman passed by, you chose to be hail-fellow-well-met with her. Lady Fermor paused for a moment exhausted.
Iris tried to strike in:
“I knew her when I was a little girl. It was very foolish and wrong of her to put on men's clothes. I was shocked ; but Nanny Hollis once wore her younger brother's clothes, and walked through the village with Maudie. Mr. Hollis was not told, but her mother did