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Lady Fermor, to whom he seemed bent on doing the honours of his house. Iris was ready to acknowledge, even in her present prejudiced state of mind, that the homage did not come ill from the prime of manhood to tottering, though untamed and undaunted old age. Instead, her dream of security was rudely broken by her seeing Sir William standing in front of her, and hearing him say, “Miss Compton, would you mind going to see the lilies ?
She did mind, but she could not say so. She had an instantaneous comprehension that the hour and the man had come, and she must meet them with the courage which other girls summoned up for similar trials. She took his arm and walked out, with the knowledge that all the eyes in the room were fixed on the couple, as they had been last night. She dared not let herself think that Lucy must be pitying her, lest the sense of her friend's compassion should shake her firmness.
Slight and matter-of-course as the advance might appear, it was really the most direct, unmistakable approach he had made to her that day. She would never have looked upon it as anything save a host's politeness, and Sir William's growing savoir faire, if it had not been for what she had been told last night, which had robbed her of her ease and peace of mind, till she could not put an indifferent interpretation on a simple action.
Iris could not tell whether Sir William had been spurred on by her grandmother to take the leap which lay before him, or whether it was the spontaneous impulse of a man with regard to whom she had not doubted that he was a brave man. He might never have read poetry (if she had known it, he had taken to reading it lately, and had gone through dozens of love poems on her account), still, he might by instinct have arrived at an entire agreement with the gallant Montrose :
• He either fears his fate too much,
Or his deserts are small,
To gain or lose it all.'
Yet she felt the arm on which her fingers were resting trembling as she walked along the corridor, and she feared she would need to have coolness for both. She had read that in certain circumstances, under the influence of passion, strong men are sometimes weaker than fragile women. But whatever other girls had done VOL. II.
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 distinction I 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.'
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?-1 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
are only found out when they are dead or dying. It would be a jolly lark, and I think I could die game. But I am speaking to a delicate young lady as was good to me when I were sick and little, and I might speak what would suit her ears better. I am glad to have seen and spoken with you again, Miss Compton; and I wish you all the happiness you deserve,' she said a little formally, and glanced doubtfully at Sir William.
'Faith, you're in a queer humour, Honor,' said Sir William discontentedly. 'I never heard that you set up for a rowdy or a gipsy
* You don't know me yet, Sir William,' answered Honor curtly.
'Is it true, Honor, that you and your father are going to cross the sea ? inquired Iris. "If so, will you let me wish you all the freedom you like and all the prosperity you can meet with out there? Some day we may hear of you as successful settlers who have not feared privations, and who have held the last of the Red Indians at bay.'
Honor looked up with a brighter face. 'Yes, you may. That's a good wish; them are kind words.' Then a shade of sullenness fell