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again across her face, and she bent her head over her work and began anew to exert her entire energies in drawing together and shaking out the hay, as if she would put an end to the conversation. It is the best that can happen to me since I've missed what the likes of you might have made of me,' she said again with bitterness.
Iris attempted no rejoinder, no fresh reminder that she had been without power to act otherwise than she had done. She stood silent for a moment, at last she turned back with Sir William strolling by her side. 'I never thought Honor Smith would grow into a woman like this,'Iris said regretfully. She was such a bright, warm-hearted girl.'
"You see,' he said awkwardly in his agitation, she missed her great good; and how am I ever to ask it for myself—that you will take me and make me something better than I ambetter than anything I have ever thought of ?
Don't speak so, Sir William,' she begged him low, but with the utmost earnestness of entreaty. 'Indeed, I wish you and every human being well, but you are asking what I cannot give. No human being is able to aid another in the way you seem to think. It is not allowed to humanity; it is a far higher prerogative. You can be a good man --the best of men if you will, with God helping you. You do not need to ask a girl like me, or the mightiest power on earth, to help you.
'But you may do what you can to help me,' he urged. You may make me a happy or miserable man, Miss Compton. Do you know the difference between the two ? You may make this place a blessing or a curse to me, and perhaps to more than me. I know, none better, how terribly far I am from youwhat a tremendous favour I am asking ; but if you could bring yourself to grant it, there is nothing I can imagine that I would not do to pleasure you—to make you as happy as a queen. My sister-I had a sister once who did not think so badly of memsaid she believed I could make any woman happy if I tried. That was rank folly, and because she was rare fond of me, for I was her lad, whom she had mothered for many a year. But, Miss Compton, there's nothing I would not try.'
"Oh, don't say that again, besought Iris in
her pain. 'I believe you, but I never thought it had gone so far as this. If I had only known—if I could have done anything to prevent it!
'Did you not know ? Could you not guess ? he asked wistfully, with a little resentment stealing into his tones. “I dare say I could not put it to you—could not make you understand as a man like yourself could have done ; and I was a coward when I feared to scare or offend you. Your grandmother knew almost from the first. She gave me encouragement; she said plainly I had her consent, or I might not have presumed.'
'Don't talk of presumption,' she protested. "Only think how you are wasting your regard! Call up your pride, and don't waste youryour liking for me any longer. You have a right-every man has a right to ask a return for what he gives, or to take it back without letting it lie unacknowledged and unacceptedI don't say spurned—no girl with a heart in her breast would spurn such an offering, unless it were forced upon her.'
'In time she might stoop and pick it up,' he said quickly.
‘Oh no, not if there were such an unlikeness
and such unsuitability as exist here. She would have been very sorry that such an idea had ever entered into a man's head, but she would be firm when truth and happiness were at stake.'
Truth ! he repeated passionately. • I love you true as the heavens above us. Happiness! I should be the happiest man the world ever saw, if you but said, “ Will Thwaite, next year, or five or ten years hence, I will give a thought to what you said after the Whitehills hay-making—if you go on improving yourself nearer to a gentleman, you shall have your reward before you leave this world.”,
'But that is not the truth, and the happiness you imagine would be a short-lived delusion,' she persisted in words that she knew must cut deep, but so the operator has to use the knife if he will save the victim; and she was doing what she had to do with keen suffering to herself. “It is not only that we have been brought up quite differently, with other customs and standards, but that we have so little in common which makes your notion that we could become close companions and fast friends, and be happy together,
incredible in its absurdity. Forgive me for saying so, but you will soon see it yourself ; you will be conscious before long that you have only been carried away by a passing fancy for the first girl you saw after you came to Whitehills, who spoke as she felt, out of simple goodwill. You will thank me; yes, I believe you will live to thank me for saving, not only myself, but you, from a great blunder and a lifelong disaster.'
Is there anything to equal the fearless confidence even of the wisest, most modest young girl when she thinks the path of duty lies plain before her, and that she has to follow it at whatever cost? The only parallel is the innocent, uncomprehending sincerity which may crush with the weight of lead the object on which it falls.
Sir William's ruddy colour faded, and he writhed under the blow inflicted by the usually kind, gentle hand; but he had still a man's spirit left in him to resent and deny his share of her inferences. You are wrong, Miss Compton. I mean you are altogether and hugely wrong where I have to do with what you say. I may be-since you will have it I am-a poor lout of a fellow, but I know this,