"She thought you did."
"That was nobody's fault, and I can't let you make it yours. My dear — — "
"Wait. We must understand each other," said Penelope, rising from her seat to prevent an advance he was making from his; "I want you to realise the whole affair. Should you want a girl who hadn't a cent in the world, and felt different in your mother's company, and had cheated and betrayed her own sister?"
"I want you!"
"Very well, then, you can't have me. I should always despise myself. I ought to give you up for all these reasons. Yes, I must." She looked at him intently, and there was a tentative quality in her affirmations.
"Is this your answer?" he said. "I must submit. If I asked too much of you, I was wrong. And — good-bye."
He held out his hand, and she put hers in it. "You think I'm capricious and fickle!" she said. "I can't help it — I don't know myself. I can't keep to one thing for half a day at a time. But it's right for us to part — yes, it must be. It must be," she repeated; "and I shall try to remember that. Good-bye! I will try to keep that in my mind, and you will too — you won't care, very soon! I didn't mean THAT — no; I know how true you are; but you will soon look at me differently; and see that even IF there hadn't been this about Irene, I was not the one for you. You do think so, don't you?" she pleaded, clinging to his hand. "I am not at all what they would like — your family; I felt that. I am little, and black, and homely, and they don't understand my way of talking, and now that we've lost everything — No, I'm not fit. Good-bye. You're quite right, not to have patience with me any longer. I've tried you enough. I ought to be willing to marry you against their wishes if you want me to, but I can't make the sacrifice — I'm too selfish for that — — " All at once she flung herself on his breast. "I can't even give you up! I shall never dare look any one in the face again. Go, go! But take me with you! I tried to do without you! I gave it a fair trial, and it was a dead failure. O poor Irene! How could she give you up?"
Corey went back to Boston immediately, and left Penelope, as he must, to tell her sister that they were to be married. She was spared from the first advance toward this by an accident or a misunderstanding. Irene came straight to her after Corey was gone, and demanded, "Penelope Lapham, have you been such a ninny as to send that man away on my account?"
Penelope recoiled from this terrible courage; she did not answer directly, and Irene went on, "Because if you did, I'll thank you to bring him back again. I'm not going to have him thinking that I'm dying for a man that never cared for me. It's insulting, and I'm not going to stand it. Now, you just send for him!"
"Oh, I will, 'Rene," gasped Penelope. And then she added, shamed out of her prevarication by Irene's haughty magnanimity, "I have. That is — he's coming back — — "
Irene looked at her a moment, and then, whatever thought was in her mind, said fiercely, "Well!" and left her to her dismay — her dismay and her relief, for they both knew that this was the last time they should ever speak of that again.
The marriage came after so much sorrow and trouble, and the fact was received with so much misgiving for the past and future, that it brought Lapham none of the triumph in which he had once exulted at the thought of an alliance with the Coreys. Adversity had so far been his friend that it had taken from him all hope of the social success for which people crawl and truckle, and restored him, through failure and doubt and heartache, the manhood which his prosperity had so nearly stolen from him. Neither he nor his wife thought now that their daughter was marrying a Corey; they thought only that she was giving herself to the man who loved her, and their acquiescence was sobered still further by the presence of Irene. Their hearts were far more with her.
Again and again Mrs. Lapham said she did not see how she could go through it. "I can't make it seem right," she said.
"It IS right," steadily answered the Colonel.
"Yes, I know. But it don't SEEM so."
It would be easy to point out traits in Penelope's character which finally reconciled all her husband's family and endeared her to them. These things continually happen in novels; and the Coreys, as they had always promised themselves to do, made the best, and not the worst of Tom's marriage.
They were people who could value Lapham's behaviour as Tom reported it to them. They were proud of him, and Bromfield Corey, who found a delicate, aesthetic pleasure in the heroism with which Lapham had withstood Rogers and his temptations — something finely dramatic and unconsciously effective, — wrote him a letter which would once have flattered the rough soul almost to ecstasy, though now he affected to slight it in showing it. "It's all right if it makes it more comfortable for Pen," he said to his wife.