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Mrs. Merriman was not looking at Lucy; on the contrary, she was looking full into Rosamund's face.
"Then I know," said Irene, knitting her black eyebrows till they almost met in her anxiety to express herself clearly; "she was telling you to have a good influence over me. She always begins like that with the new governesses. She has an interview with them the morning after they arrive. They are generally by that time reduced to a state of pulp, and she has them, as she thinks, alone. But I generally contrive to listen. I am a great eavesdropper. Oh, I am not a bit ashamed of it¡ªnot a bit¡ªso you needn't begin to preach. She tells them to try and reform me. She says money is no object if only I can be reformed. As though a changeling could be reformed! She has been asking you to reform me, hasn't she? I know her little ways, dear, good old Mumsy-pums. But she can't reform a changeling. Now the boat is ready, and Betty is toiling for dear life with our tea-tray. I darted into the kitchen, where she was having a Sunday doze. I sprang upon her back, and she gave such a shriek as though something awful had happened; and I said, 'Tea in a twinkling, or I'll dress up and frighten you when you are in bed to-night.' Oh, didn't she hop round as though she were walking on red-hot irons! And there she is now, panting down the path with our tea. Come along, Rosamund."
"That is true enough. I will tell you why I did this. I brought you out into the current to test your courage. If I do nothing, if we both sit still as we are now, in all probability you will be drowned; but if you will exert yourself and help me with all your might and main, then I will respect you as a truly courageous person, and perhaps we'll be better friends than we have hitherto been."
Then there rose before her vision the face of Rosamund¡ªRosamund's face with its noble expression, its clear, steadfast, dark eyes¡ªRosamund with her ringing voice. Oh, what influence for good she had exercised over Irene's wild, worthless, almost terrible life, and yet she was disobeying all her precepts now, and frightening poor Hughie almost to death!
"I hope she always will," said Rosamund.
Little Agnes took the parcel, but not in her usual frank, enthusiastic, and open delight, but timidly.