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Iris only made a single attempt to direct the course of events a little in her favour, and in his favour also. Everybody seemed bound for the gardens; had she and he not better have it out where there were fewer spectators ? at least spectators less interested in watching the couple from a distance, and greedily scanning each sign of the result of the interview. If the poor man were in danger of making a spectacle of himself, ought she not to screen him as far as she could from exposure ?
'If it is all the same to you, Sir William,' said Iris, with an involuntary tremor in her voice, 'I should prefer to go down to the hayfield again. I should like to speak to an old acquaintance there.
Whatever you please,' he told her hurriedly. 'We may come back by the lilies. They are like—they make me think of you—I mean of how you looked last night.'
She had nothing to answer. She was afraid he might go on to reproach her with slighting him at her ball. Yet how could he have felt the slight if he cared to remember her looks last night? She was afraid everything remained to be told. She began to talk fast on another subject in order to excuse herself for
neglecting the lilies. She was nerving herself to give him a hearing and an answer once for all. But she did not see that she need keep silent, and bring on a premature declarationthat she might not rather stave it off as long as possible. It was inconsistent, but it was the struggle between her girlish courage and girlish cowardice.
'I wish to go down and see Honor Smith,' she said, in what sounded to him as the most extraordinary coincidence. 'I used to know her long ago.'
She succeeded in arresting for a moment the words which were trembling on his lips, and arousing his curiosity instead.
Do you know Honor Smith ? he inquired in surprise. “She did me a bit of a service not long since; that is how I came to know her. How did it come about that you and she were acquainted ?'
“Simply enough. I was living alone with my governess, at Lambford. Grandmamma and grandpapa used to go a good deal about in those days, and I was always left at home with Miss Burrage. She was a good, kind woman, who tried to make me care for others, and she began with little girls like myself. The Rector told us of a child a few years older than I was, who had fallen down a bank and broken her arm. She had no mother or female relative; she was lying alone, only taken care of by her father and brother, when they were at home, over at the cottage at Hawley Scrub. Miss Burrage took me there several times, and we did what we could for poor Honor. When she was well again she used to bring me presents of wild-flowers, blackberries, and nuts, and birds' eggs, for years afterwards, till grandmamma put a stop to it. She says, people did not run in and out of cottages and have such acquaintances when she was young. I am afraid she had heard something to the disadvantage of Honor and her family.
"Just so,' said Sir William, with his impenetrable manner. “But you have no horror of poor common people and their ways ?
Horror !' exclaimed Iris, a little taken aback, 'I should hope not. Neither is grandmamma horrified, but she thinks the social lines between the classes should be strictly drawn. They were so long ago,' she ended a little nervously, with a consideration for his origin.
Then why did she open her doors to me? he startled her by asking a little sarcastically. 'I beg your pardon, he added immediately with a softened manner. 'What although it was because I had come into my own, and was master of Whitehills here, since I do not believe you would have made the same distinctionI do not mean that I do not know what was fitting for the likes of you—but at least you could keep company with Honor Smith and not forget what was due either to her or to yourself. You two were friends. It is what I should have expected from you.' i
She was saved from the necessity of saying anything further. The two had been walking fast, and Honor had made such progress with her work that she was turning over and spreading the swathes of grass close to the park wall, while the rest of the haymakers were several paces behind.
'I have brought a young lady to see you, Honor,' he said with an eager pride which hurt Iris. 'She says that she does not want an introduction, for you and she were thick together when you were children.
Miss Compton is very kind,' said Honor, with some pleasure in her face and voice. At the same time she looked sharply at the two, and she stepped back, idly moving the hay with her foot, instead of drawing nearer. It is a power of years since we were acquainted,' she added with growing reserve, and I have not had any other friend of the kind, so that we have fallen out of knowledge like, and it don't seem worth while to rake up the past and begin to build upon it.'
“Nonsense !' said Sir William bluntly.
'I am not surprised that you should think so, Honor,' said Iris, a little pained nevertheless, “but I could not help our old friendship being stopped ; it was always pleasant to me. After Miss Burrage left—you remember Miss Burrage, and how she could put your bandages right, and knew exactly what you would like to eat and drink ?-I was as lonely a girl as you were, perhaps lonelier, for I had neither father nor brother. You may see and believe I have not forgotten you.
"Oh, don't go for to heed what I say, miss! burst out Honor, with shame and contrition. 'I have run clean wild, as the other women among the workers will tell you. I am as bad as the women who 'list in disguise, or get into the Queen's ships in Jack Tar's clothes, and