"That's no credit to me," said Penelope. "I ought to be just as much ashamed as ever."
"You no need ever to be ashamed."
"That's true, too," said the girl. "And I can sneak off to Mexico with a good conscience if I could make up my mind to it." She laughed. "Well, if I could be SENTENCED to be married, or somebody would up and forbid the banns! I don't know what to do about it."
Her mother left her to carry her hesitation back to Corey, and she said now, they had better go all over it and try to reason it out. "And I hope that whatever I do, it won't be for my own sake, but for — others!"
Corey said he was sure of that, and looked at her with eyes of patient tenderness.
"I don't say it is wrong," she proceeded, rather aimlessly, "but I can't make it seem right. I don't know whether I can make you understand, but the idea of being happy, when everybody else is so miserable, is more than I can endure. It makes me wretched."
"Then perhaps that's your share of the common suffering," suggested Corey, smiling.
"Oh, you know it isn't! You know it's nothing. Oh! One of the reasons is what I told you once before, that as long as father is in trouble I can't let you think of me. Now that he's lost everything — ?" She bent her eyes inquiringly upon him, as if for the effect of this argument.
"I don't think that's a very good reason," he answered seriously, but smiling still. "Do you believe me when I tell you that I love you?"
"Why, I suppose I must," she said, dropping her eyes.
"Then why shouldn't I think all the more of you on account of your father's loss? You didn't suppose I cared for you because he was prosperous?"
There was a shade of reproach, ever so delicate and gentle, in his smiling question, which she felt.
"No, I couldn't think such a thing of you. I — I don't know what I meant. I meant that — — " She could not go on and say that she had felt herself more worthy of him because of her father's money; it would not have been true; yet there was no other explanation. She stopped, and cast a helpless glance at him.
He came to her aid. "I understand why you shouldn't wish me to suffer by your father's misfortunes."
"Yes, that was it; and there is too great a difference every way. We ought to look at that again. You mustn't pretend that you don't know it, for that wouldn't be true. Your mother will never like me, and perhaps — perhaps I shall not like her."
"Well," said Corey, a little daunted, "you won't have to marry my family."
"Ah, that isn't the point!"
"I know it," he admitted. "I won't pretend that I don't see what you mean; but I'm sure that all the differences would disappear when you came to know my family better. I'm not afraid but you and my mother will like each other — she can't help it!" he exclaimed, less judicially than he had hitherto spoken, and he went on to urge some points of doubtful tenability. "We have our ways, and you have yours; and while I don't say but what you and my mother and sisters would be a little strange together at first, it would soon wear off, on both sides. There can't be anything hopelessly different in you all, and if there were it wouldn't be any difference to me."
"Do you think it would be pleasant to have you on my side against your mother?"
"There won't be any sides. Tell me just what it is you're afraid of."
"Thinking of, then."
"I don't know. It isn't anything they say or do," she explained, with her eyes intent on his. "It's what they are. I couldn't be natural with them, and if I can't be natural with people, I'm disagreeable."
"Can you be natural with me?"
"Oh, I'm not afraid of you. I never was. That was the trouble, from the beginning."
"Well, then, that's all that's necessary. And it never was the least trouble to me!"
"It made me untrue to Irene."
"You mustn't say that! You were always true to her."
"She cared for you first."
"Well, but I never cared for her at all!" he besought her.