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So you pity me, Honor, after you have heard nigh-hand the worst, for my sister Jen died and then her husband hanged himself. You ain't shocked past looking on me as a fellow-creature.'
Shocked I what should I be shocked at? I could cry my eyes out for you, if that would do you any good.
'I know,' he said softly ; 'and you are the woman for me, the woman who knows all, and yet does not cast me off, and treat me as dirt beneath her feet.'
Who cast you off, Sir William ? Honor inquired point-blank, without any of the restraining delicacy that might have shut her mouth, had she been a woman of a different temper and rearing.
Never mind,' he said, flushing hotly; "and didn't I tell you not to call me “Sir William” any more ? say, “Will Thwaite, I will marry you, and help you to bear your burden.” We'll go our own way and be happy in our own fashion. We'll cast care to the winds and not waste a thought on our betters, or suffer them to lay a little finger on our lot.'
He spoke excitedly and a little wildly, though he had not been drinking.
She sat and stared at him, not able to believe her ears, at this instantaneous and wonderful solution of the riddle she had been trying to read.
Are you in earnest ? she asked breathlessly.
In earnest! What do you take me for? I have spoken my whole mind-made a clean breast of it for the first time these many months, and, by George ! I feel as if I could breathe freely and be a man again, and not a mountebank and puppet. Will you not make my freedom and happiness complete by coming to me, Honor, and letting me know I've a real friend—one that knows me—all about me, and looks over all that's sorely amiss in me, all I lack, and all I've done wrong, and cares for me in spite of all ? • He spoke with eager passion as if he had no other desire; and it was true that making a clean breast of it, as he called it, had been an immense relief to him. For he had been a inan naturally open as the day, on whom the unaccustomed reticence of the last period of his life, the concealment and shamming, as he had been tempted to call them, had hung with the dead-weight of iron fetters. He was also a man who, as a matter of tempera
ment, craved sympathy; to whom a woman's immeasurable tenderness had once been so familiar that he had lived surrounded by it, without thinking of it, but, once lost, it was for ever missed.
She sat dazzled. What! could she be the mistress of Whitehills at a word ? But it was not of the grand house, and servants at her call, of soft living, fine clothes, and being a titled lady that she thought first and most. The attractions which would have been allpowerful with most poor girls did not lay hold of her to any great extent. It was to be the mistress, through him who was their master -the man that thus addressed her—of the lands and the woods where she had ranged on sufferance or in secret, of the wild creatures that had been her solace and her prey ; to come and go when she liked and how she liked; to defy the upper-keepers and have her father do the same—these were the ideas which took possession of her.
It was on second thoughts that she considered she would be regarded with mingled consternation, admiration, and lively envy by everybody she knew—the colony at the quarries, her mother's people with whom she had kept company, and the field-workers who had so lately held her at arms’-length.
Neither was the man himself distasteful to her. She had the liking for him that many persons — women especially-entertain for those they happen to succour, to the length of rescuing him from a possible death. ,
His tale had filled her with a tumult of fellow-feeling and pity, for just so had the poor lad to whom her heart had been given in early girlhood been set upon, driven to stand at bay, and then forced to pay the penalty to the utmost tittle of the law. And while she had been saying to herself, within the hour, that Hughie Guild's lineaments were waxing dim in a memory which had long been faithful to him, the comely features of another, the manly figure on which she set such store, the soldierly carriage-reminding her of the great man of her family, Uncle Samthe waves of chestnut hair, the ruddy colour, the smile she could call forth, which was able to brighten indescribably what had perplexed her in the gravity, almost sombreness, of Sir William Thwaite's face, were all now taking her fancy and knocking at her heart.
Her indignant spirit, which from the date
of Hughie Guild's cruel death had set womanly rules and household restraints at defiance, was in sympathy with his spirit when he threatened to turn upon the class into which he had been grafted and shake off its yoke. Her nature, run wild, was yet full of esprit de corps and class prejudices, which disposed her to war with the upper ranks generally, while her lawlessness also inclined her to strive with her very fellows, nay, with herself and him when the time came.
It would be the best game she had ever played for her and Will Thwaite' to set up Liberty Hall at Whitehills. The temptation to answer 'Yes' to Sir William's question was strong, and growing stronger every instant while she hesitated. But to Honor Smith's credit she made a stand. What about Miss Compton ? she said suspiciously, watching him closely. This ben't in keeping with your walking about the hayfield your two selves, and speaking to me, like you were the friends and sweethearts as folk would have it you were. I shan't speak another word till you tell me the right-down truth about Miss Compton. Her ain't saucy, nor do she take up poor folk like playthings or babbies, to