"I have a feeling that you know what I want to say," he began there.
She looked up at him where he stood by the chimney-piece, and tried to put a cheerful note into her questioning "Yes?"
"Yes; and I have a feeling that you won't like it — that you won't approve of it. I wish you did — I wish you could!"
"I'm used to liking and approving everything you do, Tom. If I don't like this at once, I shall try to like it — you know that — for your sake, whatever it is."
"I'd better be short," he said, with a quick sigh. "It's about Miss Lapham." He hastened to add, "I hope it isn't surprising to you. I'd have told you before, if I could."
"No, it isn't surprising. I was afraid — I suspected something of the kind."
They were both silent in a painful silence.
"Well, mother?" he asked at last.
"If it's something you've quite made up mind to — — "
"And if you've already spoken to her — — "
"I had to do that first, of course."
"There would be no use of my saying anything, even if I disliked it."
"You do dislike it!"
"No — no! I can't say that. Of course I should have preferred it if you had chosen some nice girl among those that you had been brought up with — some friend or associate of your sisters, whose people we had known — — "
"Yes, I understand that, and I can assure you that I haven't been indifferent to your feelings. I have tried to consider them from the first, and it kept me hesitating in a way that I'm ashamed to think of; for it wasn't quite right towards — others. But your feelings and my sisters' have been in my mind, and if I couldn't yield to what I supposed they must be, entirely — — "
Even so good a son and brother as this, when it came to his love affair, appeared to think that he had yielded much in considering the feelings of his family at all.
His mother hastened to comfort him. "I know — I know. I've seen for some time that this might happen, Tom, and I have prepared myself for it. I have talked it over with your father, and we both agreed from the beginning that you were not to be hampered by our feeling. Still — it is a surprise. It must be."
"I know it. I can understand your feeling. But I'm sure that it's one that will last only while you don't know her well."
"Oh, I'm sure of that, Tom. I'm sure that we shall all be fond of her, — for your sake at first, even — and I hope she'll like us."
"I am quite certain of that," said Corey, with that confidence which experience does not always confirm in such cases. "And your taking it as you do lifts a tremendous load off me."
But he sighed so heavily, and looked so troubled, that his mother said, "Well, now, you mustn't think of that any more. We wish what is for your happiness, my son, and we will gladly reconcile ourselves to anything that might have been disagreeable. I suppose we needn't speak of the family. We must both think alike about them. They have their — drawbacks, but they are thoroughly good people, and I satisfied myself the other night that they were not to be dreaded." She rose, and put her arm round his neck. "And I wish you joy, Tom! If she's half as good as you are, you will both be very happy." She was going to kiss him, but something in his looks stopped her — an absence, a trouble, which broke out in his words.
"I must tell you, mother! There's been a complication — a mistake — that's a blight on me yet, and that it sometimes seems as if we couldn't escape from. I wonder if you can help us! They all thought I meant — the other sister."
"O Tom! But how COULD they?"
"I don't know. It seemed so glaringly plain — I was ashamed of making it so outright from the beginning. But they did. Even she did, herself!"
"But where could they have thought your eyes were — your taste? It wouldn't be surprising if any one were taken with that wonderful beauty; and I'm sure she's good too. But I'm astonished at them! To think you could prefer that little, black, odd creature, with her joking and — — "
"MOTHER!" cried the young man, turning a ghastly face of warning upon her.
"What do you mean, Tom?"
"Did you — did — did you think so too — that it was IRENE I meant?"