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that my love for you is not a light fancy, and that I shall never thank you for parting us, if so be you do part us—never, though I were to live a hundred lives !
She sighed an impatient sigh. He had succeeded in stirring up in her that sense of personal affront with which she had first heard of his suit. She began again to feel indignant on her own account, as well as deeply hurt for him. She spoke, as it sounded to him, more mercilessly and cruelly than before, though she judged it a just and humane cruelty.
"And I cannot, now or ever, care for you as you wish, as you are entitled to ask of any girl, if you are justified in addressing her at all, as you have addressed me. I must say,' continued Iris with a swelling heart, and her little head held higher than was its wont,
that I don't think you are justified in-in making love or proposing to me by anything that I have ever said or done. You are not entitled to draw down such a trial on me, whoever may be in fault. But it has all been a wretched mistake, and it is better to forget it at once, and for ever, than to seek to apportion the share of blame to everybody concerned,' she hurried on. 'Sir William, you spoke of my stooping to pick up your regard -it is you who are stooping and degrading yourself, if you say another word to me on the subject, after what I have said to you—with real sorrow and shame, because I would not hurt anyone if I could help it, because I believe you have been misled and have deceived yourself.'
They were standing just within the gate in the path which led to the house. He turned round with a face in a flame again, and hands which were clenched in desperation. He could not restrain himself, as a man differently constituted and differently trained might have done.
'Do you mean,' he said slowly, 'that nothing I can do will make any difference, that you will never look on me as a lover or a husband ? That not only I don't take your fancy now, but that you will let some other man take it and welcome, and hold yourself free from any wrong done to me? But that is not all, you think I have wronged you by telling you, with my lady's permission, that I love you as I love my life; that I have loved you from the first moment I ever saw you. You will hold me a mean rascal, a low dog, if I demean myself further to cringe and beseech you for what you have said I can never get.'
“Yes,' said Iris faintly. “That is in some sort my meaning.
Then don't be frightened, Miss Compton. I won't demean myself: you have heard the last of the story. You have done with me, and I hope you may never repent having stripped life of all it held sweet, even to your greatest inferior, a beggar who began life in the gutter and was the blackguard of the barrack-yard. I hope you'll never be sorry— if women have any pity in their breasts—for sending him back to where he came from, with ten devils, instead of one, to bear him company.'
He was breaking from her abruptly, when the most inappropriate interruption stopped him.
Refreshments had been sent out to the hay-makers—an ample and choice store of meat and drink—by the orders of a man with a full heart, who had been so besotted as to let himself be duped into thinking that the day was to bring him blessedness, either in sure prospect or in fulfilment. The company who were about to enjoy their feast had seen
the squire in the hay-field again with a young lady, and afterwards standing in conversation with her just inside the park gate. The best mannered were struck with the opportunity of thanking him, and, according to immemorial precedent, drinking his health. But they were too bashful to intrude on him and his companion in a body. They deputed the oldest apple-cheeked man in the greeneststained smock-frock to cross the field with his body bent and his knotted hands clasping a mug of ale, as if it contained the elixir vitæ. He was to act as proxy for the others, and express their general gratitude and satisfaction.
* An' it please you, Squire,' he suddenly wheezed, turning up on the other side of the gate, and relieving the tension of his mind by leaning on it, and resting his mug on the top bar, 'I have come to say that we're greatly obligated for the wittles, and we're a-drinking of your very good health. He paused a minute, and then gave voice to a happy original thought, which had slowly dawned on his mind as he was crossing the field, “And we'll add the young lady's very
good health, and long life and happiness to you both.
At this ill-timed union of healths, with the inference conveyed, poor Sir William's last shred of endurance and composure gave way.
Get off with you and your tomfoolery ! he cried, dealing the gate such a rough push that he sent the old deputy staggering a few paces. He still clasped the mug, though its contents had been dashed in his face and spilt all over the ground, leaving him ruefully staring, so far as his wet eye-lashes would let him, at the empty bottom of the vessel. .
Iris shrunk back, shocked at the unseemly outbreak. The next moment she flung open the gate, went out, begged the old man's pardon, and pressed upon him her slight arm to lean upon, till he had recovered his footing. Then he pulled out his cotton handkerchief and mopped his face, and shaking his head, began, in spite of the repulse he had sustained and the disconsolateness which followed, to make rapid way on his return to his discomfited companions.
Sir William had started off in another direction. There was no more thought of showing her the lilies which she had re