Part 4 out of 4
depriving her of her rights."
Mrs. Penniman felt with remarkable promptitude the charm of this
"That's so like you," she said; "it's so finely felt."
Morris gave his stick an angry swing.
"Oh, botheration!" he exclaimed perversely.
Mrs. Penniman, however, was not discouraged.
"It may turn out better than you think. Catherine is, after all, so
very peculiar." And she thought she might take it upon herself to
assure him that, whatever happened, the girl would be very quiet--she
wouldn't make a noise. They extended their walk, and, while they
proceeded, Mrs. Penniman took upon herself other things besides, and
ended by having assumed a considerable burden; Morris being ready
enough, as may be imagined, to put everything off upon her. But he
was not for a single instant the dupe of her blundering alacrity; he
knew that of what she promised she was competent to perform but an
insignificant fraction, and the more she professed her willingness to
serve him, the greater fool he thought her.
"What will you do if you don't marry her?" she ventured to inquire in
the course of this conversation.
"Something brilliant," said Morris. "Shouldn't you like me to do
The idea gave Mrs. Penniman exceeding pleasure.
"I shall feel sadly taken in if you don't."
"I shall have to, to make up for this. This isn't at all brilliant,
Mrs. Penniman mused a little, as if there might be some way of making
out that it was; but she had to give up the attempt, and, to carry
off the awkwardness of failure, she risked a new inquiry.
"Do you mean--do you mean another marriage?"
Morris greeted this question with a reflexion which was hardly the
less impudent from being inaudible. "Surely, women are more crude
than men!" And then he answered audibly:
"Never in the world!"
Mrs. Penniman felt disappointed and snubbed, and she relieved herself
in a little vaguely-sarcastic cry. He was certainly perverse.
"I give her up, not for another woman, but for a wider career!"
This was very grand; but still Mrs. Penniman, who felt that she had
exposed herself, was faintly rancorous.
"Do you mean never to come to see her again?" she asked, with some
"Oh no, I shall come again; but what is the use of dragging it out?
I have been four times since she came back, and it's terribly awkward
work. I can't keep it up indefinitely; she oughtn't to expect that,
you know. A woman should never keep a man dangling!" he added
"Ah, but you must have your last parting!" urged his companion, in
whose imagination the idea of last partings occupied a place inferior
in dignity only to that of first meetings.
He came again, without managing the last parting; and again and
again, without finding that Mrs. Penniman had as yet done much to
pave the path of retreat with flowers. It was devilish awkward, as
he said, and he felt a lively animosity for Catherine's aunt, who, as
he had now quite formed the habit of saying to himself, had dragged
him into the mess and was bound in common charity to get him out of
it. Mrs. Penniman, to tell the truth, had, in the seclusion of her
own apartment--and, I may add, amid the suggestiveness of
Catherine's, which wore in those days the appearance of that of a
young lady laying out her trousseau--Mrs. Penniman had measured her
responsibilities, and taken fright at their magnitude. The task of
preparing Catherine and easing off Morris presented difficulties
which increased in the execution, and even led the impulsive Lavinia
to ask herself whether the modification of the young man's original
project had been conceived in a happy spirit. A brilliant future, a
wider career, a conscience exempt from the reproach of interference
between a young lady and her natural rights--these excellent things
might be too troublesomely purchased. From Catherine herself Mrs.
Penniman received no assistance whatever; the poor girl was
apparently without suspicion of her danger. She looked at her lover
with eyes of undiminished trust, and though she had less confidence
in her aunt than in a young man with whom she had exchanged so many
tender vows, she gave her no handle for explaining or confessing.
Mrs. Penniman, faltering and wavering, declared Catherine was very
stupid, put off the great scene, as she would have called it, from
day to day, and wandered about very uncomfortably, primed, to
repletion, with her apology, but unable to bring it to the light.
Morris's own scenes were very small ones just now; but even these
were beyond his strength. He made his visits as brief as possible,
and while he sat with his mistress, found terribly little to talk
about. She was waiting for him, in vulgar parlance, to name the day;
and so long as he was unprepared to be explicit on this point it
seemed a mockery to pretend to talk about matters more abstract. She
had no airs and no arts; she never attempted to disguise her
expectancy. She was waiting on his good pleasure, and would wait
modestly and patiently; his hanging back at this supreme time might
appear strange, but of course he must have a good reason for it.
Catherine would have made a wife of the gentle old-fashioned pattern-
-regarding reasons as favours and windfalls, but no more expecting
one every day than she would have expected a bouquet of camellias.
During the period of her engagement, however, a young lady even of
the most slender pretensions counts upon more bouquets than at other
times; and there was a want of perfume in the air at this moment
which at last excited the girl's alarm.
"Are you sick?" she asked of Morris. "You seem so restless, and you
"I am not at all well," said Morris; and it occurred to him that, if
he could only make her pity him enough, he might get off.
"I am afraid you are overworked; you oughtn't to work so much."
"I must do that." And then he added, with a sort of calculated
brutality, "I don't want to owe you everything!"
"Ah, how can you say that?"
"I am too proud," said Morris.
"Yes--you are too proud!"
"Well, you must take me as I am," he went on, "you can never change
"I don't want to change you," she said gently. "I will take you as
you are!" And she stood looking at him.
"You know people talk tremendously about a man's marrying a rich
girl," Morris remarked. "It's excessively disagreeable."
"But I am not rich?" said Catherine.
"You are rich enough to make me talked about!"
"Of course you are talked about. It's an honour!"
"It's an honour I could easily dispense with."
She was on the point of asking him whether it were not a compensation
for this annoyance that the poor girl who had the misfortune to bring
it upon him, loved him so dearly and believed in him so truly; but
she hesitated, thinking that this would perhaps seem an exacting
speech, and while she hesitated, he suddenly left her.
The next time he came, however, she brought it out, and she told him
again that he was too proud. He repeated that he couldn't change,
and this time she felt the impulse to say that with a little effort
he might change.
Sometimes he thought that if he could only make a quarrel with her it
might help him; but the question was how to quarrel with a young
woman who had such treasures of concession. "I suppose you think the
effort is all on your side!" he was reduced to exclaiming. "Don't
you believe that I have my own effort to make?"
"It's all yours now," she said. "My effort is finished and done
"Well, mine is not."
"We must bear things together," said Catherine. "That's what we
ought to do."
Morris attempted a natural smile. "There are some things which we
can't very well bear together--for instance, separation."
"Why do you speak of separation?"
"Ah! you don't like it; I knew you wouldn't!"
"Where are you going, Morris?" she suddenly asked.
He fixed his eye on her for a moment, and for a part of that moment
she was afraid of it. "Will you promise not to make a scene?"
"A scene!--do I make scenes?"
"All women do!" said Morris, with the tone of large experience.
"I don't. Where are you going?"
"If I should say I was going away on business, should you think it
She wondered a moment, gazing at him. "Yes--no. Not if you will
take me with you."
"Take you with me--on business?"
"What is your business? Your business is to be with me."
"I don't earn my living with you," said Morris. "Or rather," he
cried with a sudden inspiration, "that's just what I do--or what the
world says I do!"
This ought perhaps to have been a great stroke, but it miscarried.
"Where are you going?" Catherine simply repeated.
"To New Orleans. About buying some cotton."
"I am perfectly willing to go to New Orleans." Catherine said.
"Do you suppose I would take you to a nest of yellow fever?" cried
Morris. "Do you suppose I would expose you at such a time as this?"
"If there is yellow fever, why should you go? Morris, you must not
"It is to make six thousand dollars," said Morris. "Do you grudge me
"We have no need of six thousand dollars. You think too much about
"You can afford to say that? This is a great chance; we heard of it
last night." And he explained to her in what the chance consisted;
and told her a long story, going over more than once several of the
details, about the remarkable stroke of business which he and his
partner had planned between them.
But Catherine's imagination, for reasons best known to herself,
absolutely refused to be fired. "If you can go to New Orleans, I can
go," she said. "Why shouldn't you catch yellow fever quite as easily
as I? I am every bit as strong as you, and not in the least afraid
of any fever. When we were in Europe, we were in very unhealthy
places; my father used to make me take some pills. I never caught
anything, and I never was nervous. What will be the use of six
thousand dollars if you die of a fever? When persons are going to be
married they oughtn't to think so much about business. You shouldn't
think about cotton, you should think about me. You can go to New
Orleans some other time--there will always be plenty of cotton. It
isn't the moment to choose--we have waited too long already." She
spoke more forcibly and volubly than he had ever heard her, and she
held his arm in her two hands.
"You said you wouldn't make a scene!" cried Morris. "I call this a
"It's you that are making it! I have never asked you anything
before. We have waited too long already." And it was a comfort to
her to think that she had hitherto asked so little; it seemed to make
her right to insist the greater now.
Morris bethought himself a little. "Very well, then; we won't talk
about it any more. I will transact my business by letter." And he
began to smooth his hat, as if to take leave.
"You won't go?" And she stood looking up at him.
He could not give up his idea of provoking a quarrel; it was so much
the simplest way! He bent his eyes on her upturned face, with the
darkest frown he could achieve. "You are not discreet. You mustn't
But, as usual, she conceded everything. "No, I am not discreet; I
know I am too pressing. But isn't it natural? It is only for a
"In a moment you may do a great deal of harm. Try and be calmer the
next time I come."
"When will you come?"
"Do you want to make conditions?" Morris asked. "I will come next
"Come to-morrow," Catherine begged; "I want you to come to-morrow. I
will be very quiet," she added; and her agitation had by this time
become so great that the assurance was not becoming. A sudden fear
had come over her; it was like the solid conjunction of a dozen
disembodied doubts, and her imagination, at a single bound, had
traversed an enormous distance. All her being, for the moment,
centred in the wish to keep him in the room.
Morris bent his head and kissed her forehead. "When you are quiet,
you are perfection," he said; "but when you are violent, you are not
It was Catherine's wish that there should be no violence about her
save the beating of her heart, which she could not help; and she went
on, as gently as possible, "Will you promise to come to-morrow?"
"I said Saturday!" Morris answered, smiling. He tried a frown at one
moment, a smile at another; he was at his wit's end.
"Yes, Saturday too," she answered, trying to smile. "But to-morrow
first." He was going to the door, and she went with him quickly.
She leaned her shoulder against it; it seemed to her that she would
do anything to keep him.
"If I am prevented from coming to-morrow, you will say I have
deceived you!" he said.
"How can you be prevented? You can come if you will."
"I am a busy man--I am not a dangler!" cried Morris sternly.
His voice was so hard and unnatural that, with a helpless look at
him, she turned away; and then he quickly laid his hand on the door-
knob. He felt as if he were absolutely running away from her. But
in an instant she was close to him again, and murmuring in a tone
none the less penetrating for being low, "Morris, you are going to
"Yes, for a little while."
"For how long?"
"Till you are reasonable again."
"I shall never be reasonable in that way!" And she tried to keep him
longer; it was almost a struggle. "Think of what I have done!" she
broke out. "Morris, I have given up everything!"
"You shall have everything back!"
"You wouldn't say that if you didn't mean something. What is it?--
what has happened?--what have I done?--what has changed you?"
"I will write to you--that is better," Morris stammered.
"Ah, you won't come back!" she cried, bursting into tears.
"Dear Catherine," he said, "don't believe that I promise you that you
shall see me again!" And he managed to get away and to close the
door behind him.
It was almost her last outbreak of passive grief; at least, she never
indulged in another that the world knew anything about. But this one
was long and terrible; she flung herself on the sofa and gave herself
up to her misery. She hardly knew what had happened; ostensibly she
had only had a difference with her lover, as other girls had had
before, and the thing was not only not a rupture, but she was under
no obligation to regard it even as a menace. Nevertheless, she felt
a wound, even if he had not dealt it; it seemed to her that a mask
had suddenly fallen from his face. He had wished to get away from
her; he had been angry and cruel, and said strange things, with
strange looks. She was smothered and stunned; she buried her head in
the cushions, sobbing and talking to herself. But at last she raised
herself, with the fear that either her father or Mrs. Penniman would
come in; and then she sat there, staring before her, while the room
grew darker. She said to herself that perhaps he would come back to
tell her he had not meant what he said; and she listened for his ring
at the door, trying to believe that this was probable. A long time
passed, but Morris remained absent; the shadows gathered; the evening
settled down on the meagre elegance of the light, clear-coloured
room; the fire went out. When it had grown dark, Catherine went to
the window and looked out; she stood there for half an hour, on the
mere chance that he would come up the steps. At last she turned
away, for she saw her father come in. He had seen her at the window
looking out, and he stopped a moment at the bottom of the white
steps, and gravely, with an air of exaggerated courtesy, lifted his
hat to her. The gesture was so incongruous to the condition she was
in, this stately tribute of respect to a poor girl despised and
forsaken was so out of place, that the thing gave her a kind of
horror, and she hurried away to her room. It seemed to her that she
had given Morris up.
She had to show herself half an hour later, and she was sustained at
table by the immensity of her desire that her father should not
perceive that anything had happened. This was a great help to her
afterwards, and it served her (though never as much as she supposed)
from the first. On this occasion Dr. Sloper was rather talkative.
He told a great many stories about a wonderful poodle that he had
seen at the house of an old lady whom he visited professionally.
Catherine not only tried to appear to listen to the anecdotes of the
poodle, but she endeavoured to interest herself in them, so as not to
think of her scene with Morris. That perhaps was an hallucination;
he was mistaken, she was jealous; people didn't change like that from
one day to another. Then she knew that she had had doubts before--
strange suspicions, that were at once vague and acute--and that he
had been different ever since her return from Europe: whereupon she
tried again to listen to her father, who told a story so remarkably
well. Afterwards she went straight to her own room; it was beyond
her strength to undertake to spend the evening with her aunt. All
the evening, alone, she questioned herself. Her trouble was
terrible; but was it a thing of her imagination, engendered by an
extravagant sensibility, or did it represent a clear-cut reality, and
had the worst that was possible actually come to pass? Mrs.
Penniman, with a degree of tact that was as unusual as it was
commendable, took the line of leaving her alone. The truth is, that
her suspicions having been aroused, she indulged a desire, natural to
a timid person, that the explosion should be localised. So long as
the air still vibrated she kept out of the way.
She passed and repassed Catherine's door several times in the course
of the evening, as if she expected to hear a plaintive moan behind
it. But the room remained perfectly still; and accordingly, the last
thing before retiring to her own couch, she applied for admittance.
Catherine was sitting up, and had a book that she pretended to be
reading. She had no wish to go to bed, for she had no expectation of
sleeping. After Mrs. Penniman had left her she sat up half the
night, and she offered her visitor no inducement to remain. Her aunt
came stealing in very gently, and approached her with great
"I am afraid you are in trouble, my dear. Can I do anything to help
"I am not in any trouble whatever, and do not need any help," said
Catherine, fibbing roundly, and proving thereby that not only our
faults, but our most involuntary misfortunes, tend to corrupt our
"Has nothing happened to you?"
"Are you very sure, dear?"
"And can I really do nothing for you?"
"Nothing, aunt, but kindly leave me alone," said Catherine.
Mrs. Penniman, though she had been afraid of too warm a welcome
before, was now disappointed at so cold a one; and in relating
afterwards, as she did to many persons, and with considerable
variations of detail, the history of the termination of her niece's
engagement, she was usually careful to mention that the young lady,
on a certain occasion, had "hustled" her out of the room. It was
characteristic of Mrs. Penniman that she related this fact, not in
the least out of malignity to Catherine, whom she very sufficiently
pitied, but simply from a natural disposition to embellish any
subject that she touched.
Catherine, as I have said, sat up half the night, as if she still
expected to hear Morris Townsend ring at the door. On the morrow
this expectation was less unreasonable; but it was not gratified by
the reappearance of the young man. Neither had he written; there was
not a word of explanation or reassurance. Fortunately for Catherine
she could take refuge from her excitement, which had now become
intense, in her determination that her father should see nothing of
it. How well she deceived her father we shall have occasion to
learn; but her innocent arts were of little avail before a person of
the rare perspicacity of Mrs. Penniman. This lady easily saw that
she was agitated, and if there was any agitation going forward, Mrs.
Penniman was not a person to forfeit her natural share in it. She
returned to the charge the next evening, and requested her niece to
lean upon her--to unburden her heart. Perhaps she should be able to
explain certain things that now seemed dark, and that she knew more
about than Catherine supposed. If Catherine had been frigid the
night before, to-day she was haughty.
"You are completely mistaken, and I have not the least idea what you
mean. I don't know what you are trying to fasten on me, and I have
never had less need of any one's explanations in my life."
In this way the girl delivered herself, and from hour to hour kept
her aunt at bay. From hour to hour Mrs. Penniman's curiosity grew.
She would have given her little finger to know what Morris had said
and done, what tone he had taken, what pretext he had found. She
wrote to him, naturally, to request an interview; but she received,
as naturally, no answer to her petition. Morris was not in a writing
mood; for Catherine had addressed him two short notes which met with
no acknowledgment. These notes were so brief that I may give them
entire. "Won't you give me some sign that you didn't mean to be so
cruel as you seemed on Tuesday?"--that was the first; the other was a
little longer. "If I was unreasonable or suspicious on Tuesday--if I
annoyed you or troubled you in any way--I beg your forgiveness, and I
promise never again to be so foolish. I am punished enough, and I
don't understand. Dear Morris, you are killing me!" These notes
were despatched on the Friday and Saturday; but Saturday and Sunday
passed without bringing the poor girl the satisfaction she desired.
Her punishment accumulated; she continued to bear it, however, with a
good deal of superficial fortitude. On Saturday morning the Doctor,
who had been watching in silence, spoke to his sister Lavinia.
"The thing has happened--the scoundrel has backed out!"
"Never!" cried Mrs. Penniman, who had bethought herself what she
should say to Catherine, but was not provided with a line of defence
against her brother, so that indignant negation was the only weapon
in her hands.
"He has begged for a reprieve, then, if you like that better!"
"It seems to make you very happy that your daughter's affections have
been trifled with."
"It does," said the Doctor; '"for I had foretold it! It's a great
pleasure to be in the right."
"Your pleasures make one shudder!" his sister exclaimed.
Catherine went rigidly through her usual occupations; that is, up to
the point of going with her aunt to church on Sunday morning. She
generally went to afternoon service as well; but on this occasion her
courage faltered, and she begged of Mrs. Penniman to go without her.
"I am sure you have a secret," said Mrs. Penniman, with great
significance, looking at her rather grimly.
"If I have, I shall keep it!" Catherine answered, turning away.
Mrs. Penniman started for church; but before she had arrived, she
stopped and turned back, and before twenty minutes had elapsed she
re-entered the house, looked into the empty parlours, and then went
upstairs and knocked at Catherine's door. She got no answer;
Catherine was not in her room, and Mrs. Penniman presently
ascertained that she was not in the house. "She has gone to him, she
has fled!" Lavinia cried, clasping her hands with admiration and
envy. But she soon perceived that Catherine had taken nothing with
her--all her personal property in her room was intact--and then she
jumped at the hypothesis that the girl had gone forth, not in
tenderness, but in resentment. "She has followed him to his own
door--she has burst upon him in his own apartment!" It was in these
terms that Mrs. Penniman depicted to herself her niece's errand,
which, viewed in this light, gratified her sense of the picturesque
only a shade less strongly than the idea of a clandestine marriage.
To visit one's lover, with tears and reproaches, at his own
residence, was an image so agreeable to Mrs. Penniman's mind that she
felt a sort of aesthetic disappointment at its lacking, in this case,
the harmonious accompaniments of darkness and storm. A quiet Sunday
afternoon appeared an inadequate setting for it; and, indeed, Mrs.
Penniman was quite out of humour with the conditions of the time,
which passed very slowly as she sat in the front parlour in her
bonnet and her cashmere shawl, awaiting Catherine's return.
This event at last took place. She saw her--at the window--mount the
steps, and she went to await her in the hall, where she pounced upon
her as soon as she had entered the house, and drew her into the
parlour, closing the door with solemnity. Catherine was flushed, and
her eye was bright. Mrs. Penniman hardly knew what to think.
"May I venture to ask where you have been?" she demanded.
"I have been to take a walk," said Catherine. "I thought you had
gone to church."
"I did go to church; but the service was shorter than usual. And
pray, where did you walk?"
"I don't know!" said Catherine.
"Your ignorance is most extraordinary! Dear Catherine, you can trust
"What am I to trust you with?"
"With your secret--your sorrow."
"I have no sorrow!" said Catherine fiercely.
"My poor child," Mrs. Penniman insisted, "you can't deceive me. I
know everything. I have been requested to--a--to converse with you."
"I don't want to converse!"
"It will relieve you. Don't you know Shakespeare's lines?--'the
grief that does not speak!' My dear girl, it is better as it is."
"What is better?" Catherine asked.
She was really too perverse. A certain amount of perversity was to
be allowed for in a young lady whose lover had thrown her over; but
not such an amount as would prove inconvenient to his apologists.
"That you should be reasonable," said Mrs. Penniman, with some
sternness. "That you should take counsel of worldly prudence, and
submit to practical considerations. That you should agree to--a--
Catherine had been ice up to this moment, but at this word she flamed
up. "Separate? What do you know about our separating?"
Mrs. Penniman shook her head with a sadness in which there was almost
a sense of injury. "Your pride is my pride, and your
susceptibilities are mine. I see your side perfectly, but I also"--
and she smiled with melancholy suggestiveness--"I also see the
situation as a whole!"
This suggestiveness was lost upon Catherine, who repeated her violent
inquiry. "Why do you talk about separation; what do you know about
"We must study resignation," said Mrs. Penniman, hesitating, but
sententious at a venture.
"Resignation to what?"
"To a change of--of our plans."
"My plans have not changed!" said Catherine, with a little laugh.
"Ah, but Mr. Townsend's have," her aunt answered very gently.
"What do you mean?"
There was an imperious brevity in the tone of this inquiry, against
which Mrs. Penniman felt bound to protest; the information with which
she had undertaken to supply her niece was, after all, a favour. She
had tried sharpness, and she had tried sternness: but neither would
do; she was shocked at the girl's obstinacy. "Ah, well," she said,
"if he hasn't told you! . . . " and she turned away.
Catherine watched her a moment in silence; then she hurried after
her, stopping her before she reached the door. "Told me what? What
do you mean? What are you hinting at and threatening me with?"
"Isn't it broken off?" asked Mrs. Penniman.
"My engagement? Not in the least!"
"I beg your pardon in that case. I have spoken too soon!"
"Too soon! Soon or late," Catherine broke out, "you speak foolishly
"What has happened between you, then?" asked her aunt, struck by the
sincerity of this cry. "For something certainly has happened."
"Nothing has happened but that I love him more and more!"
Mrs. Penniman was silent an instant. "I suppose that's the reason
you went to see him this afternoon."
Catherine flushed as if she had been struck. "Yes, I did go to see
him! But that's my own business."
"Very well, then; we won't talk about it." And Mrs. Penniman moved
towards the door again. But she was stopped by a sudden imploring
cry from the girl.
"Aunt Lavinia, WHERE has he gone?"
"Ah, you admit, then, that he has gone away? Didn't they know at his
"They said he had left town. I asked no more questions; I was
ashamed," said Catherine, simply enough.
"You needn't have taken so compromising a step if you had had a
little more confidence in me," Mrs. Penniman observed, with a good
deal of grandeur.
"Is it to New Orleans?" Catherine went on irrelevantly.
It was the first time Mrs. Penniman had heard of New Orleans in this
connexion; but she was averse to letting Catherine know that she was
in the dark. She attempted to strike an illumination from the
instructions she had received from Morris. "My dear Catherine," she
said, "when a separation has been agreed upon, the farther he goes
away the better."
"Agreed upon? Has he agreed upon it with you?" A consummate sense
of her aunt's meddlesome folly had come over her during the last five
minutes, and she was sickened at the thought that Mrs. Penniman had
been let loose, as it were, upon her happiness.
"He certainly has sometimes advised with me," said Mrs. Penniman.
"Is it you, then, that have changed him and made him so unnatural?"
Catherine cried. "Is it you that have worked on him and taken him
from me? He doesn't belong to you, and I don't see how you have
anything to do with what is between us! Is it you that have made
this plot and told him to leave me? How could you be so wicked, so
cruel? What have I ever done to you; why can't you leave me alone?
I was afraid you would spoil everything; for you DO spoil everything
you touch; I was afraid of you all the time we were abroad; I had no
rest when I thought that you were always talking to him." Catherine
went on with growing vehemence, pouring out in her bitterness and in
the clairvoyance of her passion (which suddenly, jumping all
processes, made her judge her aunt finally and without appeal) the
uneasiness which had lain for so many months upon her heart.
Mrs. Penniman was scared and bewildered; she saw no prospect of
introducing her little account of the purity of Morris's motives.
"You are a most ungrateful girl!" she cried. "Do you scold me for
talking with him? I am sure we never talked of anything but you!"
"Yes; and that was the way you worried him; you made him tired of my
very name! I wish you had never spoken of me to him; I never asked
"I am sure if it hadn't been for me he would never have come to the
house, and you would never have known what he thought of you," Mrs.
Penniman rejoined, with a good deal of justice.
"I wish he never had come to the house, and that I never had known
it! That's better than this," said poor Catherine.
"You are a very ungrateful girl," Aunt Lavinia repeated.
Catherine's outbreak of anger and the sense of wrong gave her, while
they lasted, the satisfaction that comes from all assertion of force;
they hurried her along, and there is always a sort of pleasure in
cleaving the air. But at the bottom she hated to be violent, and she
was conscious of no aptitude for organised resentment. She calmed
herself with a great effort, but with great rapidity, and walked
about the room a few moments, trying to say to herself that her aunt
had meant everything for the best. She did not succeed in saying it
with much conviction, but after a little she was able to speak
"I am not ungrateful, but I am very unhappy. It's hard to be
grateful for that," she said. "Will you please tell me where he is?"
"I haven't the least idea; I am not in secret correspondence with
him!" And Mrs. Penniman wished indeed that she were, so that she
might let him know how Catherine abused her, after all she had done.
"Was it a plan of his, then, to break off--?" By this time Catherine
had become completely quiet.
Mrs. Penniman began again to have a glimpse of her chance for
explaining. "He shrank--he shrank," she said. "He lacked courage,
but it was the courage to injure you! He couldn't bear to bring down
on you your father's curse."
Catherine listened to this with her eyes fixed upon her aunt, and
continued to gaze at her for some time afterwards. "Did he tell you
to say that?"
"He told me to say many things--all so delicate, so discriminating.
And he told me to tell you he hoped you wouldn't despise him."
"I don't," said Catherine. And then she added: "And will he stay
away for ever?"
"Oh, for ever is a long time. Your father, perhaps, won't live for
"I am sure you appreciate--you understand--even though your heart
bleeds," said Mrs. Penniman. "You doubtless think him too
scrupulous. So do I, but I respect his scruples. What he asks of
you is that you should do the same."
Catherine was still gazing at her aunt, but she spoke at last, as if
she had not heard or not understood her. "It has been a regular
plan, then. He has broken it off deliberately; he has given me up."
"For the present, dear Catherine. He has put it off only."
"He has left me alone," Catherine went on.
"Haven't you ME?" asked Mrs. Penniman, with much expression.
Catherine shook her head slowly. "I don't believe it!" and she left
Though she had forced herself to be calm, she preferred practising
this virtue in private, and she forbore to show herself at tea--a
repast which, on Sundays, at six o'clock, took the place of dinner.
Dr. Sloper and his sister sat face to face, but Mrs. Penniman never
met her brother's eye. Late in the evening she went with him, but
without Catherine, to their sister Almond's, where, between the two
ladies, Catherine's unhappy situation was discussed with a frankness
that was conditioned by a good deal of mysterious reticence on Mrs.
"I am delighted he is not to marry her," said Mrs. Almond, "but he
ought to be horsewhipped all the same."
Mrs. Penniman, who was shocked at her sister's coarseness, replied
that he had been actuated by the noblest of motives--the desire not
to impoverish Catherine.
"I am very happy that Catherine is not to be impoverished--but I hope
he may never have a penny too much! And what does the poor girl say
to YOU?" Mrs. Almond asked.
"She says I have a genius for consolation," said Mrs. Penniman.
This was the account of the matter that she gave to her sister, and
it was perhaps with the consciousness of genius that, on her return
that evening to Washington Square, she again presented herself for
admittance at Catherine's door. Catherine came and opened it; she
was apparently very quiet.
"I only want to give you a little word of advice," she said. "If
your father asks you, say that everything is going on."
Catherine stood there, with her hand on the knob looking at her aunt,
but not asking her to come in. "Do you think he will ask me?"
"I am sure he will. He asked me just now, on our way home from your
Aunt Elizabeth's. I explained the whole thing to your Aunt
Elizabeth. I said to your father I know nothing about it."
"Do you think he will ask me when he sees--when he sees--?" But here
"The more he sees the more disagreeable he will be," said her aunt.
"He shall see as little as possible!" Catherine declared.
"Tell him you are to be married."
"So I am," said Catherine softly; and she closed the door upon her
She could not have said this two days later--for instance, on
Tuesday, when she at last received a letter from Morris Townsend. It
was an epistle of considerable length, measuring five large square
pages, and written at Philadelphia. It was an explanatory document,
and it explained a great many things, chief among which were the
considerations that had led the writer to take advantage of an urgent
"professional" absence to try and banish from his mind the image of
one whose path he had crossed only to scatter it with ruins. He
ventured to expect but partial success in this attempt, but he could
promise her that, whatever his failure, he would never again
interpose between her generous heart and her brilliant prospects and
filial duties. He closed with an intimation that his professional
pursuits might compel him to travel for some months, and with the
hope that when they should each have accommodated themselves to what
was sternly involved in their respective positions--even should this
result not be reached for years--they should meet as friends, as
fellow-sufferers, as innocent but philosophic victims of a great
social law. That her life should be peaceful and happy was the
dearest wish of him who ventured still to subscribe himself her most
obedient servant. The letter was beautifully written, and Catherine,
who kept it for many years after this, was able, when her sense of
the bitterness of its meaning and the hollowness of its tone had
grown less acute, to admire its grace of expression. At present, for
a long time after she received it, all she had to help her was the
determination, daily more rigid, to make no appeal to the compassion
of her father.
He suffered a week to elapse, and then one day, in the morning, at an
hour at which she rarely saw him, he strolled into the back parlour.
He had watched his time, and he found her alone. She was sitting
with some work, and he came and stood in front of her. He was going
out, he had on his hat and was drawing on his gloves.
"It doesn't seem to me that you are treating me just now with all the
consideration I deserve," he said in a moment.
"I don't know what I have done," Catherine answered, with her eyes on
"You have apparently quite banished from your mind the request I made
you at Liverpool, before we sailed; the request that you would notify
me in advance before leaving my house."
"I have not left your house!" said Catherine.
"But you intend to leave it, and by what you gave me to understand,
your departure must be impending. In fact, though you are still here
in body, you are already absent in spirit. Your mind has taken up
its residence with your prospective husband, and you might quite as
well be lodged under the conjugal roof, for all the benefit we get
from your society."
"I will try and be more cheerful!" said Catherine.
"You certainly ought to be cheerful, you ask a great deal if you are
not. To the pleasure of marrying a brilliant young man, you add that
of having your own way; you strike me as a very lucky young lady!"
Catherine got up; she was suffocating. But she folded her work,
deliberately and correctly, bending her burning face upon it. Her
father stood where he had planted himself; she hoped he would go, but
he smoothed and buttoned his gloves, and then he rested his hands
upon his hips.
"It would be a convenience to me to know when I may expect to have an
empty house," he went on. "When you go, your aunt marches."
She looked at him at last, with a long silent gaze, which, in spite
of her pride and her resolution, uttered part of the appeal she had
tried not to make. Her father's cold grey eye sounded her own, and
he insisted on his point.
"Is it to-morrow? Is it next week, or the week after?"
"I shall not go away!" said Catherine.
The Doctor raised his eyebrows. "Has he backed out?"
"I have broken off my engagement."
"Broken it off?"
"I have asked him to leave New York, and he has gone away for a long
The Doctor was both puzzled and disappointed, but he solved his
perplexity by saying to himself that his daughter simply
misrepresented--justifiably, if one would? but nevertheless
misrepresented--the facts; and he eased off his disappointment, which
was that of a man losing a chance for a little triumph that he had
rather counted on, by a few words that he uttered aloud.
"How does he take his dismissal?"
"I don't know!" said Catherine, less ingeniously than she had
"You mean you don't care? You are rather cruel, after encouraging
him and playing with him for so long!"
The Doctor had his revenge, after all.
Our story has hitherto moved with very short steps, but as it
approaches its termination it must take a long stride. As time went
on, it might have appeared to the Doctor that his daughter's account
of her rupture with Morris Townsend, mere bravado as he had deemed
it, was in some degree justified by the sequel. Morris remained as
rigidly and unremittingly absent as if he had died of a broken heart,
and Catherine had apparently buried the memory of this fruitless
episode as deep as if it had terminated by her own choice. We know
that she had been deeply and incurably wounded, but the Doctor had no
means of knowing it. He was certainly curious about it, and would
have given a good deal to discover the exact truth; but it was his
punishment that he never knew--his punishment, I mean, for the abuse
of sarcasm in his relations with his daughter. There was a good deal
of effective sarcasm in her keeping him in the dark, and the rest of
the world conspired with her, in this sense, to be sarcastic. Mrs.
Penniman told him nothing, partly because he never questioned her--he
made too light of Mrs. Penniman for that--and partly because she
flattered herself that a tormenting reserve, and a serene profession
of ignorance, would avenge her for his theory that she had meddled in
the matter. He went two or three times to see Mrs. Montgomery, but
Mrs. Montgomery had nothing to impart. She simply knew that her
brother's engagement was broken off, and now that Miss Sloper was out
of danger she preferred not to bear witness in any way against
Morris. She had done so before--however unwillingly--because she was
sorry for Miss Sloper; but she was not sorry for Miss Sloper now--not
at all sorry. Morris had told her nothing about his relations with
Miss Sloper at the time, and he had told her nothing since. He was
always away, and he very seldom wrote to her; she believed he had
gone to California. Mrs. Almond had, in her sister's phrase, "taken
up" Catherine violently since the recent catastrophe; but though the
girl was very grateful to her for her kindness, she revealed no
secrets, and the good lady could give the Doctor no satisfaction.
Even, however, had she been able to narrate to him the private
history of his daughter's unhappy love affair, it would have given
her a certain comfort to leave him in ignorance; for Mrs. Almond was
at this time not altogether in sympathy with her brother. She had
guessed for herself that Catherine had been cruelly jilted--she knew
nothing from Mrs. Penniman, for Mrs. Penniman had not ventured to lay
the famous explanation of Morris's motives before Mrs. Almond, though
she had thought it good enough for Catherine--and she pronounced her
brother too consistently indifferent to what the poor creature must
have suffered and must still be suffering. Dr. Sloper had his
theory, and he rarely altered his theories. The marriage would have
been an abominable one, and the girl had had a blessed escape. She
was not to be pitied for that, and to pretend to condole with her
would have been to make concessions to the idea that she had ever had
a right to think of Morris.
"I put my foot on this idea from the first, and I keep it there now,"
said the Doctor. "I don't see anything cruel in that; one can't keep
it there too long." To this Mrs. Almond more than once replied that
if Catherine had got rid of her incongruous lover, she deserved the
credit of it, and that to bring herself to her father's enlightened
view of the matter must have cost her an effort that he was bound to
"I am by no means sure she has got rid of him," the Doctor said.
"There is not the smallest probability that, after having been as
obstinate as a mule for two years, she suddenly became amenable to
reason. It is infinitely more probable that he got rid of her."
"All the more reason you should be gentle with her."
"I AM gentle with her. But I can't do the pathetic; I can't pump up
tears, to look graceful, over the most fortunate thing that ever
happened to her."
"You have no sympathy," said Mrs. Almond; "that was never your strong
point. You have only to look at her to see that, right or wrong, and
whether the rupture came from herself or from him, her poor little
heart is grievously bruised."
"Handling bruises--and even dropping tears on them--doesn't make them
any better! My business is to see she gets no more knocks, and that
I shall carefully attend to. But I don't at all recognise your
description of Catherine. She doesn't strike me in the least as a
young woman going about in search of a moral poultice. In fact, she
seems to me much better than while the fellow was hanging about. She
is perfectly comfortable and blooming; she eats and sleeps, takes her
usual exercise, and overloads herself, as usual, with finery. She is
always knitting some purse or embroidering some handkerchief, and it
seems to me she turns these articles out about as fast as ever. She
hasn't much to say; but when had she anything to say? She had her
little dance, and now she is sitting down to rest. I suspect that,
on the whole, she enjoys it."
"She enjoys it as people enjoy getting rid of a leg that has been
crushed. The state of mind after amputation is doubtless one of
"If your leg is a metaphor for young Townsend, I can assure you he
has never been crushed. Crushed? Not he! He is alive and perfectly
intact, and that's why I am not satisfied."
"Should you have liked to kill him?" asked Mrs. Almond.
"Yes, very much. I think it is quite possible that it is all a
"An arrangement between them. Il fait le mort, as they say in
France; but he is looking out of the corner of his eye. You can
depend upon it he has not burned his ships; he has kept one to come
back in. When I am dead, he will set sail again, and then she will
"It is interesting to know that you accuse your only daughter of
being the vilest of hypocrites," said Mrs. Almond.
"I don't see what difference her being my only daughter makes. It is
better to accuse one than a dozen. But I don't accuse any one.
There is not the smallest hypocrisy about Catherine, and I deny that
she even pretends to be miserable."
The Doctor's idea that the thing was a "blind" had its intermissions
and revivals; but it may be said on the whole to have increased as he
grew older; together with his impression of Catherine's blooming and
comfortable condition. Naturally, if he had not found grounds for
viewing her as a lovelorn maiden during the year or two that followed
her great trouble, he found none at a time when she had completely
recovered her self-possession. He was obliged to recognise the fact
that if the two young people were waiting for him to get out of the
way, they were at least waiting very patiently. He had heard from
time to time that Morris was in New York; but he never remained there
long, and, to the best of the Doctor's belief, had no communication
with Catherine. He was sure they never met, and he had reason to
suspect that Morris never wrote to her. After the letter that has
been mentioned, she heard from him twice again, at considerable
intervals; but on none of these occasions did she write herself. On
the other hand, as the Doctor observed, she averted herself rigidly
from the idea of marrying other people. Her opportunities for doing
so were not numerous, but they occurred often enough to test her
disposition. She refused a widower, a man with a genial temperament,
a handsome fortune, and three little girls (he had heard that she was
very fond of children, and he pointed to his own with some
confidence); and she turned a deaf ear to the solicitations of a
clever young lawyer, who, with the prospect of a great practice, and
the reputation of a most agreeable man, had had the shrewdness, when
he came to look about him for a wife, to believe that she would suit
him better than several younger and prettier girls. Mr. Macalister,
the widower, had desired to make a marriage of reason, and had chosen
Catherine for what he supposed to be her latent matronly qualities;
but John Ludlow, who was a year the girl's junior, and spoken of
always as a young man who might have his "pick," was seriously in
love with her. Catherine, however, would never look at him; she made
it plain to him that she thought he came to see her too often. He
afterwards consoled himself, and married a very different person,
little Miss Sturtevant, whose attractions were obvious to the dullest
comprehension. Catherine, at the time of these events, had left her
thirtieth year well behind her, and had quite taken her place as an
old maid. Her father would have preferred she should marry, and he
once told her that he hoped she would not be too fastidious. "I
should like to see you an honest man's wife before I die," he said.
This was after John Ludlow had been compelled to give it up, though
the Doctor had advised him to persevere. The Doctor exercised no
further pressure, and had the credit of not "worrying" at all over
his daughter's singleness. In fact he worried rather more than
appeared, and there were considerable periods during which he felt
sure that Morris Townsend was hidden behind some door. "If he is
not, why doesn't she marry?" he asked himself. "Limited as her
intelligence may be, she must understand perfectly well that she is
made to do the usual thing." Catherine, however, became an admirable
old maid. She formed habits, regulated her days upon a system of her
own, interested herself in charitable institutions, asylums,
hospitals, and aid societies; and went generally, with an even and
noiseless step, about the rigid business of her life. This life had,
however, a secret history as well as a public one--if I may talk of
the public history of a mature and diffident spinster for whom
publicity had always a combination of terrors. From her own point of
view the great facts of her career were that Morris Townsend had
trifled with her affection, and that her father had broken its
spring. Nothing could ever alter these facts; they were always
there, like her name, her age, her plain face. Nothing could ever
undo the wrong or cure the pain that Morris had inflicted on her, and
nothing could ever make her feel towards her father as she felt in
her younger years. There was something dead in her life, and her
duty was to try and fill the void. Catherine recognised this duty to
the utmost; she had a great disapproval of brooding and moping. She
had, of course, no faculty for quenching memory in dissipation; but
she mingled freely in the usual gaieties of the town, and she became
at last an inevitable figure at all respectable entertainments. She
was greatly liked, and as time went on she grew to be a sort of
kindly maiden aunt to the younger portion of society. Young girls
were apt to confide to her their love affairs (which they never did
to Mrs. Penniman), and young men to be fond of her without knowing
why. She developed a few harmless eccentricities; her habits, once
formed, were rather stiffly maintained; her opinions, on all moral
and social matters, were extremely conservative; and before she was
forty she was regarded as an old-fashioned person, and an authority
on customs that had passed away. Mrs. Penniman, in comparison, was
quite a girlish figure; she grew younger as she advanced in life.
She lost none of her relish for beauty and mystery, but she had
little opportunity to exercise it. With Catherine's later wooers she
failed to establish relations as intimate as those which had given
her so many interesting hours in the society of Morris Townsend.
These gentlemen had an indefinable mistrust of her good offices, and
they never talked to her about Catherine's charms. Her ringlets, her
buckles and bangles, glistened more brightly with each succeeding
year, and she remained quite the same officious and imaginative Mrs.
Penniman, and the odd mixture of impetuosity and circumspection, that
we have hitherto known. As regards one point, however, her
circumspection prevailed, and she must be given due credit for it.
For upwards of seventeen years she never mentioned Morris Townsend's
name to her niece. Catherine was grateful to her, but this
consistent silence, so little in accord with her aunt's character,
gave her a certain alarm, and she could never wholly rid herself of a
suspicion that Mrs. Penniman sometimes had news of him.
Little by little Dr. Sloper had retired from his profession; he
visited only those patients in whose symptoms he recognised a certain
originality. He went again to Europe, and remained two years;
Catherine went with him, and on this occasion Mrs. Penniman was of
the party. Europe apparently had few surprises for Mrs. Penniman,
who frequently remarked, in the most romantic sites--"You know I am
very familiar with all this." It should be added that such remarks
were usually not addressed to her brother, or yet to her niece, but
to fellow-tourists who happened to be at hand, or even to the
cicerone or the goat-herd in the foreground.
One day, after his return from Europe, the Doctor said something to
his daughter that made her start--it seemed to come from so far out
of the past.
"I should like you to promise me something before I die."
"Why do you talk about your dying?" she asked.
"Because I am sixty-eight years old."
"I hope you will live a long time," said Catherine.
"I hope I shall! But some day I shall take a bad cold, and then it
will not matter much what any one hopes. That will be the manner of
my exit, and when it takes place, remember I told you so. Promise me
not to marry Morris Townsend after I am gone."
This was what made Catherine start, as I have said; but her start was
a silent one, and for some moments she said nothing. "Why do you
speak of him?" she asked at last.
"You challenge everything I say. I speak of him because he's a
topic, like any other. He's to be seen, like any one else, and he is
still looking for a wife--having had one and got rid of her, I don't
know by what means. He has lately been in New York, and at your
cousin Marian's house; your Aunt Elizabeth saw him there."
"They neither of them told me," said Catherine.
"That's their merit; it's not yours. He has grown fat and bald, and
he has not made his fortune. But I can't trust those facts alone to
steel your heart against him, and that's why I ask you to promise."
"Fat and bald": these words presented a strange image to Catherine's
mind, out of which the memory of the most beautiful young man in the
world had never faded. "I don't think you understand," she said. "I
very seldom think of Mr. Townsend."
"It will be very easy for you to go on, then. Promise me, after my
death, to do the same."
Again, for some moments, Catherine was silent; her father's request
deeply amazed her; it opened an old wound and made it ache afresh.
"I don't think I can promise that," she answered.
"It would be a great satisfaction," said her father.
"You don't understand. I can't promise that."
The Doctor was silent a minute. "I ask you for a particular reason.
I am altering my will."
This reason failed to strike Catherine; and indeed she scarcely
understood it. All her feelings were merged in the sense that he was
trying to treat her as he had treated her years before. She had
suffered from it then; and now all her experience, all her acquired
tranquillity and rigidity, protested. She had been so humble in her
youth that she could now afford to have a little pride, and there was
something in this request, and in her father's thinking himself so
free to make it, that seemed an injury to her dignity. Poor
Catherine's dignity was not aggressive; it never sat in state; but if
you pushed far enough you could find it. Her father had pushed very
"I can't promise," she simply repeated.
"You are very obstinate," said the Doctor.
"I don't think you understand."
"Please explain, then."
"I can't explain," said Catherine. "And I can't promise."
"Upon my word," her father explained, "I had no idea how obstinate
She knew herself that she was obstinate, and it gave her a certain
joy. She was now a middle-aged woman.
About a year after this, the accident that the Doctor had spoken of
occurred; he took a violent cold. Driving out to Bloomingdale one
April day to see a patient of unsound mind, who was confined in a
private asylum for the insane, and whose family greatly desired a
medical opinion from an eminent source, he was caught in a spring
shower, and being in a buggy, without a hood, he found himself soaked
to the skin. He came home with an ominous chill, and on the morrow
he was seriously ill. "It is congestion of the lungs," he said to
Catherine; "I shall need very good nursing. It will make no
difference, for I shall not recover; but I wish everything to be
done, to the smallest detail, as if I should. I hate an ill-
conducted sick-room; and you will be so good as to nurse me on the
hypothesis that I shall get well." He told her which of his fellow-
physicians to send for, and gave her a multitude of minute
directions; it was quite on the optimistic hypothesis that she nursed
him. But he had never been wrong in his life, and he was not wrong
now. He was touching his seventieth year, and though he had a very
well-tempered constitution, his hold upon life had lost its firmness.
He died after three weeks' illness, during which Mrs. Penniman, as
well as his daughter, had been assiduous at his bedside.
On his will being opened after a decent interval, it was found to
consist of two portions. The first of these dated from ten years
back, and consisted of a series of dispositions by which he left the
great mass of property to his daughter, with becoming legacies to his
two sisters. The second was a codicil, of recent origin, maintaining
the annuities to Mrs. Penniman and Mrs. Almond, but reducing
Catherine's share to a fifth of what he had first bequeathed her.
"She is amply provided for from her mother's side," the document ran,
"never having spent more than a fraction of her income from this
source; so that her fortune is already more than sufficient to
attract those unscrupulous adventurers whom she has given me reason
to believe that she persists in regarding as an interesting class."
The large remainder of his property, therefore, Dr. Sloper had
divided into seven unequal parts, which he left, as endowments, to as
many different hospitals and schools of medicine, in various cities
of the Union.
To Mrs. Penniman it seemed monstrous that a man should play such
tricks with other people's money; for after his death, of course, as
she said, it was other people's. "Of course, you will dispute the
will," she remarked, fatuously, to Catherine.
"Oh no," Catherine answered, "I like it very much. Only I wish it
had been expressed a little differently!"
It was her habit to remain in town very late in the summer; she
preferred the house in Washington Square to any other habitation
whatever, and it was under protest that she used to go to the seaside
for the month of August. At the sea she spent her month at an hotel.
The year that her father died she intermitted this custom altogether,
not thinking it consistent with deep mourning; and the year after
that she put off her departure till so late that the middle of August
found her still in the heated solitude of Washington Square. Mrs.
Penniman, who was fond of a change, was usually eager for a visit to
the country; but this year she appeared quite content with such rural
impressions as she could gather, at the parlour window, from the
ailantus-trees behind the wooden paling. The peculiar fragrance of
this vegetation used to diffuse itself in the evening air, and Mrs.
Penniman, on the warm nights of July, often sat at the open window
and inhaled it. This was a happy moment for Mrs. Penniman; after the
death of her brother she felt more free to obey her impulses. A
vague oppression had disappeared from her life, and she enjoyed a
sense of freedom of which she had not been conscious since the
memorable time, so long ago, when the Doctor went abroad with
Catherine and left her at home to entertain Morris Townsend. The
year that had elapsed since her brother's death reminded her--of that
happy time, because, although Catherine, in growing older, had become
a person to be reckoned with, yet her society was a very different
thing, as Mrs. Penniman said, from that of a tank of cold water. The
elder lady hardly knew what use to make of this larger margin of her
life; she sat and looked at it very much as she had often sat, with
her poised needle in her hand, before her tapestry frame. She had a
confident hope, however, that her rich impulses, her talent for
embroidery, would still find their application, and this confidence
was justified before many months had elapsed.
Catherine continued to live in her father's house in spite of its
being represented to her that a maiden lady of quiet habits might
find a more convenient abode in one of the smaller dwellings, with
brown stone fronts, which had at this time begun to adorn the
transverse thoroughfares in the upper part of the town. She liked
the earlier structure--it had begun by this time to be called an
"old" house--and proposed to herself to end her days in it. If it
was too large for a pair of unpretending gentlewomen, this was better
than the opposite fault; for Catherine had no desire to find herself
in closer quarters with her aunt. She expected to spend the rest of
her life in Washington Square, and to enjoy Mrs. Penniman's society
for the whole of this period; as she had a conviction that, long as
she might live, her aunt would live at least as long, and always
retain her brilliancy and activity. Mrs. Penniman suggested to her
the idea of a rich vitality.
On one of those warm evenings in July of which mention has been made,
the two ladies sat together at an open window, looking out on the
quiet Square. It was too hot for lighted lamps, for reading, or for
work; it might have appeared too hot even for conversation, Mrs.
Penniman having long been speechless. She sat forward in the window,
half on the balcony, humming a little song. Catherine was within the
room, in a low rocking-chair, dressed in white, and slowly using a
large palmetto fan. It was in this way, at this season, that the
aunt and niece, after they had had tea, habitually spent their
"Catherine," said Mrs. Penniman at last, "I am going to say something
that will surprise you."
"Pray do," Catherine answered; "I like surprises. And it is so quiet
"Well, then, I have seen Morris Townsend."
If Catherine was surprised, she checked the expression of it; she
gave neither a start nor an exclamation. She remained, indeed, for
some moments intensely still, and this may very well have been a
symptom of emotion. "I hope he was well," she said at last.
"I don't know; he is a great deal changed. He would like very much
to see you."
"I would rather not see him," said Catherine quickly.
"I was afraid you would say that. But you don't seem surprised!"
"I am--very much."
"I met him at Marian's," said Mrs. Penniman. "He goes to Marian's,
and they are so afraid you will meet him there. It's my belief that
that's why he goes. He wants so much to see you." Catherine made no
response to this, and Mrs. Penniman went on. "I didn't know him at
first; he is so remarkably changed. But he knew me in a minute. He
says I am not in the least changed. You know how polite he always
was. He was coming away when I came, and we walked a little distance
together. He is still very handsome, only, of course, he looks
older, and he is not so--so animated as he used to be. There was a
touch of sadness about him; but there was a touch of sadness about
him before--especially when he went away. I am afraid he has not
been very successful--that he has never got thoroughly established.
I don't suppose he is sufficiently plodding, and that, after all, is
what succeeds in this world." Mrs. Penniman had not mentioned Morris
Townsend's name to her niece for upwards of the fifth of a century;
but now that she had broken the spell, she seemed to wish to make up
for lost time, as if there had been a sort of exhilaration in hearing
herself talk of him. She proceeded, however, with considerable
caution, pausing occasionally to let Catherine give some sign.
Catherine gave no other sign than to stop the rocking of her chair
and the swaying of her fan; she sat motionless and silent. "It was
on Tuesday last," said Mrs. Penniman, "and I have been hesitating
ever since about telling you. I didn't know how you might like it.
At last I thought that it was so long ago that you would probably not
have any particular feeling. I saw him again, after meeting him at
Marian's. I met him in the street, and he went a few steps with me.
The first thing he said was about you; he asked ever so many
questions. Marian didn't want me to speak to you; she didn't want
you to know that they receive him. I told him I was sure that after
all these years you couldn't have any feeling about that; you
couldn't grudge him the hospitality of his own cousin's house. I
said you would be bitter indeed if you did that. Marian has the most
extraordinary ideas about what happened between you; she seems to
think he behaved in some very unusual manner. I took the liberty of
reminding her of the real facts, and placing the story in its true
light. HE has no bitterness, Catherine, I can assure you; and he
might be excused for it, for things have not gone well with him. He
has been all over the world, and tried to establish himself
everywhere; but his evil star was against him. It is most
interesting to hear him talk of his evil star. Everything failed;
everything but his--you know, you remember--his proud, high spirit.
I believe he married some lady somewhere in Europe. You know they
marry in such a peculiar matter-of-course way in Europe; a marriage
of reason they call it. She died soon afterwards; as he said to me,
she only flitted across his life. He has not been in New York for
ten years; he came back a few days ago. The first thing he did was
to ask me about you. He had heard you had never married; he seemed
very much interested about that. He said you had been the real
romance of his life."
Catherine had suffered her companion to proceed from point to point,
and pause to pause, without interrupting her; she fixed her eyes on
the ground and listened. But the last phrase I have quoted was
followed by a pause of peculiar significance, and then, at last,
Catherine spoke. It will be observed that before doing so she had
received a good deal of information about Morris Townsend. "Please
say no more; please don't follow up that subject."
"Doesn't it interest you?" asked Mrs. Penniman, with a certain
"It pains me," said Catherine.
"I was afraid you would say that. But don't you think you could get
used to it? He wants so much to see you."
"Please don't, Aunt Lavinia," said Catherine, getting up from her
seat. She moved quickly away, and went to the other window, which
stood open to the balcony; and here, in the embrasure, concealed from
her aunt by the white curtains, she remained a long time, looking out
into the warm darkness. She had had a great shock; it was as if the
gulf of the past had suddenly opened, and a spectral figure had risen
out of it. There were some things she believed she had got over,
some feelings that she had thought of as dead; but apparently there
was a certain vitality in them still. Mrs. Penniman had made them
stir themselves. It was but a momentary agitation, Catherine said to
herself; it would presently pass away. She was trembling, and her
heart was beating so that she could feel it; but this also would
subside. Then, suddenly, while she waited for a return of her
calmness, she burst into tears. But her tears flowed very silently,
so that Mrs. Penniman had no observation of them. It was perhaps,
however, because Mrs. Penniman suspected them that she said no more
that evening about Morris Townsend.
Her refreshed attention to this gentleman had not those limits of
which Catherine desired, for herself, to be conscious; it lasted long
enough to enable her to wait another week before speaking of him
again. It was under the same circumstances that she once more
attacked the subject. She had been sitting with her niece in the
evening; only on this occasion, as the night was not so warm, the
lamp had been lighted, and Catherine had placed herself near it with
a morsel of fancy-work. Mrs. Penniman went and sat alone for half an
hour on the balcony; then she came in, moving vaguely about the room.
At last she sank into a seat near Catherine, with clasped hands, and
a little look of excitement.
"Shall you be angry if I speak to you again about HIM?" she asked.
Catherine looked up at her quietly. "Who is HE?"
"He whom you once loved."
"I shall not be angry, but I shall not like it."
"He sent you a message," said Mrs. Penniman. "I promised him to
deliver it, and I must keep my promise."
In all these years Catherine had had time to forget how little she
had to thank her aunt for in the season of her misery; she had long
ago forgiven Mrs. Penniman for taking too much upon herself. But for
a moment this attitude of interposition and disinterestedness, this
carrying of messages and redeeming of promises, brought back the
sense that her companion was a dangerous woman. She had said she
would not be angry; but for an instant she felt sore. "I don't care
what you do with your promise!" she answered.
Mrs. Penniman, however, with her high conception of the sanctity of
pledges, carried her point. "I have gone too far to retreat," she
said, though precisely what this meant she was not at pains to
explain. "Mr. Townsend wishes most particularly to see you,
Catherine; he believes that if you knew how much, and why, he wishes
it, you would consent to do so."
"There can be no reason," said Catherine; "no good reason."
"His happiness depends upon it. Is not that a good reason?" asked
Mrs. Penniman impressively.
"Not for me. My happiness does not."
"I think you will be happier after you have seen him. He is going
away again--going to resume his wanderings. It is a very lonely,
restless, joyless life. Before he goes he wishes to speak to you; it
is a fixed idea with him--he is always thinking of it. He has
something very important to say to you. He believes that you never
understood him--that you never judged him rightly, and the belief has
always weighed upon him terribly. He wishes to justify himself; he
believes that in a very few words he could do so. He wishes to meet
you as a friend."
Catherine listened to this wonderful speech without pausing in her
work; she had now had several days to accustom herself to think of
Morris Townsend again as an actuality. When it was over she said
simply, "Please say to Mr. Townsend that I wish he would leave me
She had hardly spoken when a sharp, firm ring at the door vibrated
through the summer night. Catherine looked up at the clock; it
marked a quarter-past nine--a very late hour for visitors, especially
in the empty condition of the town. Mrs. Penniman at the same moment
gave a little start, and then Catherine's eyes turned quickly to her
aunt. They met Mrs. Penniman's and sounded them for a moment,
sharply. Mrs. Penniman was blushing; her look was a conscious one;
it seemed to confess something. Catherine guessed its meaning, and
rose quickly from her chair.
"Aunt Penniman," she said, in a tone that scared her companion, "have
you taken the LIBERTY . . . ?"
"My dearest Catherine," stammered Mrs. Penniman, "just wait till you
Catherine had frightened her aunt, but she was also frightened
herself; she was on the point of rushing to give orders to the
servant, who was passing to the door, to admit no one; but the fear
of meeting her visitor checked her.
"Mr. Morris Townsend."
This was what she heard, vaguely but recognisably articulated by the
domestic, while she hesitated. She had her back turned to the door
of the parlour, and for some moments she kept it turned, feeling that
he had come in. He had not spoken, however, and at last she faced
about. Then she saw a gentleman standing in the middle of the room,
from which her aunt had discreetly retired.
She would never have known him. He was forty-five years old, and his
figure was not that of the straight, slim young man she remembered.
But it was a very fine person, and a fair and lustrous beard,
spreading itself upon a well-presented chest, contributed to its
effect. After a moment Catherine recognised the upper half of the
face, which, though her visitor's clustering locks had grown thin,
was still remarkably handsome. He stood in a deeply deferential
attitude, with his eyes on her face. "I have ventured--I have
ventured," he said; and then he paused, looking about him, as if he
expected her to ask him to sit down. It was the old voice, but it
had not the old charm. Catherine, for a minute, was conscious of a
distinct determination not to invite him to take a seat. Why had he
come? It was wrong for him to come. Morris was embarrassed, but
Catherine gave him no help. It was not that she was glad of his
embarrassment; on the contrary, it excited all her own liabilities of
this kind, and gave her great pain. But how could she welcome him
when she felt so vividly that he ought not to have come? "I wanted
so much--I was determined," Morris went on. But he stopped again; it
was not easy. Catherine still said nothing, and he may well have
recalled with apprehension her ancient faculty of silence. She
continued to look at him, however, and as she did so she made the
strangest observation. It seemed to be he, and yet not he; it was
the man who had been everything, and yet this person was nothing.
How long ago it was--how old she had grown--how much she had lived!
She had lived on something that was connected with HIM, and she had
consumed it in doing so. This person did not look unhappy. He was
fair and well-preserved, perfectly dressed, mature and complete. As
Catherine looked at him, the story of his life defined itself in his
eyes; he had made himself comfortable, and he had never been caught.
But even while her perception opened itself to this, she had no
desire to catch him; his presence was painful to her, and she only
wished he would go.
"Will you not sit down?" he asked.
"I think we had better not," said Catherine.
"I offend you by coming?" He was very grave; he spoke in a tone of
the richest respect.
"I don't think you ought to have come."
"Did not Mrs. Penniman tell you--did she not give you my message?"
"She told me something, but I did not understand."
"I wish you would let ME tell you--let me speak for myself."
"I don't think it is necessary," said Catherine.
"Not for you, perhaps, but for me. It would be a great satisfaction-
-and I have not many." He seemed to be coming nearer; Catherine
turned away. "Can we not be friends again?" he said.
"We are not enemies," said Catherine. "I have none but friendly
feelings to you."
"Ah, I wonder whether you know the happiness it gives me to hear you
say that!" Catherine uttered no intimation that she measured the
influence of her words; and he presently went on, "You have not
changed--the years have passed happily for you."
"They have passed very quietly," said Catherine.
"They have left no marks; you are admirably young." This time he
succeeded in coming nearer--he was close to her; she saw his glossy
perfumed beard, and his eyes above it looking strange and hard. It
was very different from his old--from his young--face. If she had
first seen him this way she would not have liked him. It seemed to
her that he was smiling, or trying to smile. "Catherine," he said,
lowering his voice, "I have never ceased to think of you."
"Please don't say those things," she answered.
"Do you hate me?"
"Oh no," said Catherine.
Something in her tone discouraged him, but in a moment he recovered
himself. "Have you still some kindness for me, then?"
"I don't know why you have come here to ask me such things!"
"Because for many years it has been the desire of my life that we
should be friends again"
"That is impossible."
"Why so? Not if you will allow it."
"I will not allow it!" said Catherine.
He looked at her again in silence. "I see; my presence troubles you
and pains you. I will go away; but you must give me leave to come
"Please don't come again," she said.
She made a great effort; she wished to say something that would make
it impossible he should ever again cross her threshold. "It is wrong
of you. There is no propriety in it--no reason for it."
"Ah, dearest lady, you do me injustice!" cried Morris Townsend. "We
have only waited, and now we are free."
"You treated me badly," said Catherine.
"Not if you think of it rightly. You had your quiet life with your
father--which was just what I could not make up my mind to rob you
"Yes; I had that."
Morris felt it to be a considerable damage to his cause that he could
not add that she had had something more besides; for it is needless
to say that he had learnt the contents of Dr. Sloper's will. He was
nevertheless not at a loss. "There are worse fates than that!" he
exclaimed, with expression; and he might have been supposed to refer
to his own unprotected situation. Then he added, with a deeper
tenderness, "Catherine, have you never forgiven me?"
"I forgave you years ago, but it is useless for us to attempt to be
"Not if we forget the past. We have still a future, thank God!"
"I can't forget--I don't forget," said Catherine. "You treated me
too badly. I felt it very much; I felt it for years." And then she
went on, with her wish to show him that he must not come to her this
way, "I can't begin again--I can't take it up. Everything is dead
and buried. It was too serious; it made a great change in my life.
I never expected to see you here."
"Ah, you are angry!" cried Morris, who wished immensely that he could
extort some flash of passion from her mildness. In that case he
"No, I am not angry. Anger does not last, that way, for years. But
there are other things. Impressions last, when they have been
strong. But I can't talk."
Morris stood stroking his beard, with a clouded eye. "Why have you
never married?" he asked abruptly. "You have had opportunities."
"I didn't wish to marry."
"Yes, you are rich, you are free; you had nothing to gain."
"I had nothing to gain," said Catherine.
Morris looked vaguely round him, and gave a deep sigh. "Well, I was
in hopes that we might still have been friends."
"I meant to tell you, by my aunt, in answer to your message--if you
had waited for an answer--that it was unnecessary for you to come in
"Good-bye, then," said Morris. "Excuse my indiscretion."
He bowed, and she turned away--standing there, averted, with her eyes
on the ground, for some moments after she had heard him close the
door of the room.
In the hall he found Mrs. Penniman, fluttered and eager; she appeared
to have been hovering there under the irreconcilable promptings of
her curiosity and her dignity.
"That was a precious plan of yours!" said Morris, clapping on his
"Is she so hard?" asked Mrs. Penniman.
"She doesn't care a button for me--with her confounded little dry
"Was it very dry?" pursued Mrs. Penniman, with solicitude.
Morris took no notice of her question; he stood musing an instant,
with his hat on. "But why the deuce, then, would she never marry?"
"Yes--why indeed?" sighed Mrs. Penniman. And then, as if from a
sense of the inadequacy of this explanation, "But you will not
despair--you will come back?"
"Come back? Damnation!" And Morris Townsend strode out of the
house, leaving Mrs. Penniman staring.
Catherine, meanwhile, in the parlour, picking up her morsel of fancy
work, had seated herself with it again--for life, as it were.