"You said you — loved me. If you do, you will go."
He dropped the hands he had stretched towards her, and she hid her face in her own.
"There!" she said, turning it suddenly upon him. "Sit down there. And will you promise me — on your honour — not to speak — not to try to persuade me — not to — touch me? You won't touch me?"
"I will obey you, Penelope."
"As if you were never to see me again? As if I were dying?"
"I will do what you say. But I shall see you again; and don't talk of dying. This is the beginning of life — — "
"No. It's the end," said the girl, resuming at last something of the hoarse drawl which the tumult of her feeling had broken into those half-articulate appeals. She sat down too, and lifted her face towards him. "It's the end of life for me, because I know now that I must have been playing false from the beginning. You don't know what I mean, and I can never tell you. It isn't my secret — it's some one else's. You — you must never come here again. I can't tell you why, and you must never try to know. Do you promise?"
"You can forbid me. I must do what you say."
"I do forbid you, then. And you shall not think I am cruel — — "
"How could I think that?"
"Oh, how hard you make it!"
Corey laughed for very despair. "Can I make it easier by disobeying you?"
"I know I am talking crazily. But I'm not crazy."
"No, no," he said, with some wild notion of comforting her; "but try to tell me this trouble! There is nothing under heaven — no calamity, no sorrow — that I wouldn't gladly share with you, or take all upon myself if I could!"
"I know! But this you can't. Oh, my — — "
"Dearest! Wait! Think! Let me ask your mother — your father — — "
She gave a cry.
"No! If you do that, you will make me hate you! Will you — — "
The rattling of a latch-key was heard in the outer door.
"Promise!" cried Penelope.
"Oh, I promise!"
"Good-bye!" She suddenly flung her arms round his neck, and, pressing her cheek tight against his, flashed out of the room by one door as her father entered it by another.
Corey turned to him in a daze. "I — I called to speak with you — about a matter — — But it's so late now. I'll — I'll see you to-morrow."
"No time like the present," said Lapham, with a fierceness that did not seem referable to Corey. He had his hat still on, and he glared at the young man out of his blue eyes with a fire that something else must have kindled there.
"I really can't now," said Corey weakly. "It will do quite as well to-morrow. Good night, sir."
"Good night," answered Lapham abruptly, following him to the door, and shutting it after him. "I think the devil must have got into pretty much everybody to-night," he muttered, coming back to the room, where he put down his hat. Then he went to the kitchen-stairs and called down, "Hello, Alice! I want something to eat!"