Imagens das páginas

spect he had displayed the spirit of a gentleman.

Iris thought this with a little softening in her wholesale condemnation—even as she was making up her mind that she had seen the last of Whitehills for a long time—at least not till Sir William had found another girl whom he would be more justified in addressing, who did not mind his ignorance or rusticity, or who balanced against them the fine old manor-house, the noble trees in the park there, the position in county society, with, perhaps, the additional bribe of seasons in town, opera-boxes, and routs ad infinitum.

Iris did not wait for Lady Fermor to bid the girl follow her grandmother to her dressingroom, where Iris had gone as a little child to receive her deserts whenever she was in disgrace, and though the disgrace had always been sore to the child, she had not shirked the punishment. Her prompt anticipation of Lady Fermor's commands on this occasion had some effect in calming down her judge.

Lady Fermor threw herself into an armchair, untied her bonnet-strings, and asked, with more self-restraint than might have been expected :

What is the meaning of all this, Iris ? What have you been about?

Sir William Thwaite asked me to marry him, grandmamma, when we went out together, and of course I had to refuse him,' said Iris with dry lips, but without hesitation, without sobbing breath or welling tears. . The information, together with the manner in which it was conveyed, struck Lady Fermor dumb. For an instant she sat glaring rather than staring at Iris, and tapping the arm of her chair. Lady Fermor could storm against weakness—she could meet violence with violence; but simple firmness which, as she knew by experience, might prove inflexibility, tried her to the utmost and well-nigh got the better of her. She was not a fool, though she was an arrogant tyrant, shameless where her evil-doing was concerned, and vain of her


Then all I have to tell you,' she said at last, speaking nearly as quietly as Iris had spoken, 'is that you are even sillier and more stupid and full of conceit than girls in general. I have done the best I could, and found an excellent match for you. There is not a mother far or near that would not be pleased

[ocr errors]

to establish her daughter at Whitehills ; and Sir William is a good, honest young fellow, who might make any right-minded, reasonable creature happy.'

'But, grandmamma- interposed Iris in vain.

Girl,' the old woman put her down, if you knew the world, you would understand what he is worth. He is fond of you, which is a deal more than you deserve ; but there is no accounting for men's tastes. I have tried to do better for you than I was able to do for your mother, and you have done what you could to thwart me. Do you not believe me, that you are not every man's bargain ? Few good sort of men, as you described Thwaite the first time you saw him, would care to seek you, because you are come of people who were no more safe than they were smug.

I don't wish to marry !' stammered Iris. * Hold your tongue ! cried Lady Fermor. . You will suffer for your folly, and you need not look to me for assistance. You are entirely dependent on me and your grandfather ; your precious father managed to run through his means, and did not leave you a penny. We have cared for you nearly all your life,




and I must say you are rewarding us well. You have been ungrateful and disobedient, and you have disappointed me thoroughly, though I can't say I ever had much hope of you. I don't pin my faith to cant and goodygoodiness, which you were so quick to learn from that fanatic Burrage. But I have not done with you yet, Miss Compton, only Tom Mildmay and his wife are waiting for dinner, and I must go down and keep them in countenance. Girl, if it had only been to snap my fingers in their faces, and take my place in the county before them, for all their puritanical ways and their poking tricks, since Whitehills is a better property to begin with, and is unencumbered, while Lambford is pretty considerably dipped, you might have consented to please me and make a good fellow happy ; but you don't deserve the luck you have thrown away, and he is worth a dozen of

[ocr errors]

Iris knew it would only increase her offence to attempt to answer Lady Fermor furtherto beg her forbearance and forgiveness, to say how sorry she, Iris, was, for having displeased and disappointed her grandmother, in her autocratic disposal of her grand-daughter for

life—instead of going and getting ready for dinner without an instant's delay. After the day's tribulations, she was still fain-even without Lucy's encouraging assurances — to cling to the impression that she had got off more easily than she could have dared to look for, that Lady Fermor would be better than her word, and would have done with her grand-daughter from that night, so far as Sir William Thwaite's egregious blunder was concerned.

Iris could not fathom Lady Fermor's domineering determination of purpose, and indomitable strength of will, when she had an object to gain. The girl could not guess how little her grandmother cared for one girlish refusal, or a dozen girlish refusals, if she could pat the gentleman on the back and coax him to come on again, and yet again, until, by mingled wearing insistance and harsh persecution, she might sap the foundations of conscience and inclination, and force the rebel to yield.



« AnteriorContinuar »