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¡¡¡¡"Not any way at all just at present. Let us walk about and talk before you swing me. I must know something about you. How old are you?"
The piercing shrieks that came from the poor little girl's lips brought the rest of the party to the scene. When they appeared, Professor Merriman holding a lantern, they saw Agnes crouched in the farthest corner of the bower, her eyes semi-conscious, her face deadly white with terror, while Irene stood a little way off.
"You must miss your Emily," she said.
Little Agnes, never having heard anything about Irene except that she was her sister Emily's pupil, believed these words, and continued to look with a fascinated gaze at the white-throated swans, at the beautiful water-lilies, and at the calm reflection of the boat and their two selves in the water. She saw nothing whatever of the rapid stream in the centre of the lake, where poor Miss Carter had almost met her death, nor did she see any fierce or turbulent side to Irene's erratic nature.
"Oh! if you must have some one, I am quite as good as another," said Phyllis Flower.
"Please do. Now, I have something to confess. You heard what Lucy said: that I was reciting poetry, that I was using two voices, that I was a sort of ventriloquist. You heard what Dr. Marshall said: that he saw me on the high-road at a very early hour this morning. Now, I was not reciting last night; I was talking to another girl, and no less a girl than that one I had promised you to have no communication with for a whole weekâ€”Irene Ashleigh. Please hear me out before you speak. I did not ask her to come to me. She came on her own account. I did mean to keep my word of honor; but Irene, poor little girl! had taken a liking to me. I had managed, I don't know how, to touch something sympathetic in her heart, and she was hungering for me, and you had forbidden me to go to her. So last night, after I came to bed, she was in my room. She had got in by the window. Oh, don't look at me with those startled eyes! I do not wish her to be blamed, and I was not to blame when I found her there, for I did mean to keep my word of honor. She begged of me to lock the door, but I refused; and I think I was almost inducing her to leave the house, and to go home, when Lucy burst into the room. Lucy came to fetch something for Mrs. Merrimanâ€”something that Jane wantedâ€”and Irene was under the bed like a flash. It was she who made that noise that Lucy attributed to me. Then afterwards I felt reckless, and I did lock the door, and I did go out by the open window, and I spent the night in the summer-house with little Irene, and this morning I walked back with her to The Follies. Now you know what I am. You see I am not worth saving; and I want to tell you that if you will not have me here, then I will go to Lady Jane, and tell her the entire story, and ask her if I may stay with herâ€”at least until the time of infection is over. That is what I wish to do; but I will not go in the dark. I have told you how naughty I have been, and you can punish me by expelling me from the school. But, please, quite understand that your daughter has provoked me a great deal, and that I did make an effortâ€”at least at firstâ€”to keep my word of honor."