Mary forced herself to go on. "This is how I've worked it out, Joe! I said to meself, 'Ye love this man; and it's his _love_ ye want--nothin' else! If he's got a place in the world, ye'd only hold him back--and ye'd not want to do that. Ye don't want his name, or his friends, or any of those things--ye want _him_!' Have ye ever heard of such a thing as that?"
Her cheeks were flaming, but she continued to meet his gaze. "Yes, I've heard of it," he answered, in a low voice.
"What would ye say to it? Is it honest? The Reverend Spragg would say 'twas the devil, no doubt; Father O'Gorman, down in Pedro, would call it mortal sin; and maybe they know--but I don't! I only know I can't stand it any more!"
Tears sprang to her eyes, and she cried out suddenly, "Oh, take me away from here! Take me away and give me a chance, Joe! I'll ask nothing, I'll never stand in your way; I'll work for ye, I'll cook and wash and do everything for ye, I'll wear my fingers to the bone! Or I'll go out and work at some job, and earn my share. And I'll make ye this promise--if ever ye get tired and want to leave me, ye'll not hear a word of complaint!"
She made no conscious appeal to his senses; she sat gazing at him honestly through her tears, and that made it all the harder to answer her.
What could he say? He felt the old dangerous impulse--to take the girl in his arms and comfort her. When finally he spoke it was with an effort to keep his voice calm. "I'd say yes, Mary, if I thought it would work."
"It _would_ work! It would, Joe! Ye can quit when ye want to. I mean it!"
"There's no woman lives who can be happy on such terms, Mary. She wants her man, and she wants him to herself, and she wants him always; she's only deluding herself if she believes anything else. You're over-wrought now, what you've seen in the last few days has made you wild--"
"No!" she exclaimed. "'Tis not only that! I been thinkin' about it for weeks."
"I know. You've been thinking, but you wouldn't have spoken if it hadn't been for this horror." He paused for a moment, to renew his own self-possession. "It won't do, Mary," he declared. "I've seen it tried more than once, and I'm not so old either. My own brother tried it once, and ruined himself."
"Ah, ye're afraid to trust me, Joe!"
"No, it's not that; what I mean is--he ruined his own heart, he made himself selfish. He took everything, and gave nothing. He's much older than I, so I've had a chance to see its effect on him. He's cold, he has no faith, even in his own nature; when you talk to him about making the world better he tells you you're a fool."
"It's another way of bein' afraid of me," she insisted. "Afraid you'd ought to marry me!"
"But, Mary--there's the other girl. I really love her, and I'm promised to her. What can I do?"
"'Tis that I've never believed you loved her," she said, in a whisper. Her eyes fell and she began picking nervously again at the faded blue dress, which was smutted and grease-stained, perhaps from her recent effort with Mrs. Zamboni's brood. Several times Hal thought she was going to speak, but she shut her lips tightly again; he watched her, his heart aching.
When finally she spoke, it was still in a whisper, and there was a note of humility he had never heard from her before. "Ye'll not be wantin' to speak to me, Joe, after what I've said."
"Oh, Mary!" he exclaimed, and caught her hand, "don't say I've made you more unhappy! I want to help you! Won't you let me be your friend--your real, true friend? Let me help you to get out of this trap; you'll have a chance to look about, you'll find a way to be happy--the whole world will seem different to you then, and you'll laugh at the idea that you ever wanted me!"
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