Part 2 out of 4
which he had made a point of concealing from the Doctor. It will
probably seem to the reader, however, that the Doctor's vigilance was
by no means excessive, and that these two young people had an open
field. Their intimacy was now considerable, and it may appear that
for a shrinking and retiring person our heroine had been liberal of
her favours. The young man, within a few days, had made her listen
to things for which she had not supposed that she was prepared;
having a lively foreboding of difficulties, he proceeded to gain as
much ground as possible in the present. He remembered that fortune
favours the brave, and even if he had forgotten it, Mrs. Penniman
would have remembered it for him. Mrs. Penniman delighted of all
things in a drama, and she flattered herself that a drama would now
be enacted. Combining as she did the zeal of the prompter with the
impatience of the spectator, she had long since done her utmost to
pull up the curtain. She too expected to figure in the performance--
to be the confidante, the Chorus, to speak the epilogue. It may even
be said that there were times when she lost sight altogether of the
modest heroine of the play, in the contemplation of certain great
passages which would naturally occur between the hero and herself.
What Morris had told Catherine at last was simply that he loved her,
or rather adored her. Virtually, he had made known as much already--
his visits had been a series of eloquent intimations of it. But now
he had affirmed it in lover's vows, and, as a memorable sign of it,
he had passed his arm round the girl's waist and taken a kiss. This
happy certitude had come sooner than Catherine expected, and she had
regarded it, very naturally, as a priceless treasure. It may even be
doubted whether she had ever definitely expected to possess it; she
had not been waiting for it, and she had never said to herself that
at a given moment it must come. As I have tried to explain, she was
not eager and exacting; she took what was given her from day to day;
and if the delightful custom of her lover's visits, which yielded her
a happiness in which confidence and timidity were strangely blended,
had suddenly come to an end, she would not only not have spoken of
herself as one of the forsaken, but she would not have thought of
herself as one of the disappointed. After Morris had kissed her, the
last time he was with her, as a ripe assurance of his devotion, she
begged him to go away, to leave her alone, to let her think. Morris
went away, taking another kiss first. But Catherine's meditations
had lacked a certain coherence. She felt his kisses on her lips and
on her cheeks for a long time afterwards; the sensation was rather an
obstacle than an aid to reflexion. She would have liked to see her
situation all clearly before her, to make up her mind what she should
do if, as she feared, her father should tell her that he disapproved
of Morris Townsend. But all that she could see with any vividness
was that it was terribly strange that anyone should disapprove of
him; that there must in that case be some mistake, some mystery,
which in a little while would be set at rest. She put off deciding
and choosing; before the vision of a conflict with her father she
dropped her eyes and sat motionless, holding her breath and waiting.
It made her heart beat, it was intensely painful. When Morris kissed
her and said these things--that also made her heart beat; but this
was worse, and it frightened her. Nevertheless, to-day, when the
young man spoke of settling something, taking a line, she felt that
it was the truth, and she answered very simply and without
"We must do our duty," she said; "we must speak to my father. I will
do it to-night; you must do it to-morrow"
"It is very good of you to do it first," Morris answered. "The young
man--the happy lover--generally does that. But just as you please!"
It pleased Catherine to think that she should be brave for his sake,
and in her satisfaction she even gave a little smile. "Women have
more tact," she said "they ought to do it first. They are more
conciliating; they can persuade better."
"You will need all your powers of persuasion. But, after all,"
Morris added, "you are irresistible."
"Please don't speak that way--and promise me this. To-morrow, when
you talk with father, you will be very gentle and respectful."
"As much so as possible," Morris promised. "It won't be much use,
but I shall try. I certainly would rather have you easily than have
to fight for you."
"Don't talk about fighting; we shall not fight."
"Ah, we must be prepared," Morris rejoined; "you especially, because
for you it must come hardest. Do you know the first thing your
father will say to you?"
"No, Morris; please tell me."
"He will tell you I am mercenary."
"It's a big word; but it means a low thing. It means that I am after
"Oh!" murmured Catherine softly.
The exclamation was so deprecating and touching that Morris indulged
in another little demonstration of affection. "But he will be sure
to say it," he added.
"It will be easy to be prepared for that," Catherine said. "I shall
simply say that he is mistaken--that other men may be that way, but
that you are not."
"You must make a great point of that, for it will be his own great
Catherine looked at her lover a minute, and then she said, "I shall
persuade him. But I am glad we shall be rich," she added.
Morris turned away, looking into the crown of his hat. "No, it's a
misfortune," he said at last. "It is from that our difficulty will
"Well, if it is the worst misfortune, we are not so unhappy. Many
people would not think it so bad. I will persuade him, and after
that we shall be very glad we have money."
Morris Townsend listened to this robust logic in silence. "I will
leave my defence to you; it's a charge that a man has to stoop to
defend himself from."
Catherine on her side was silent for a while; she was looking at him
while he looked, with a good deal of fixedness, out of the window.
"Morris," she said abruptly, "are you very sure you love me?"
He turned round, and in a moment he was bending over her. "My own
dearest, can you doubt it?"
"I have only known it five days," she said; "but now it seems to me
as if I could never do without it."
"You will never be called upon to try!" And he gave a little tender,
reassuring laugh. Then, in a moment, he added, "There is something
you must tell me, too." She had closed her eyes after the last word
she uttered, and kept them closed; and at this she nodded her head,
without opening them. "You must tell me," he went on, "that if your
father is dead against me, if he absolutely forbids our marriage, you
will still be faithful."
Catherine opened her eyes, gazing at him, and she could give no
better promise than what he read there.
"You will cleave to me?" said Morris. "You know you are your own
mistress--you are of age."
"Ah, Morris!" she murmured, for all answer. Or rather not for all;
for she put her hand into his own. He kept it a while, and presently
he kissed her again. This is all that need be recorded of their
conversation; but Mrs. Penniman, if she had been present, would
probably have admitted that it was as well it had not taken place
beside the fountain in Washington Square.
Catherine listened for her father when he came in that evening, and
she heard him go to his study. She sat quiet, though her heart was
beating fast, for nearly half an hour; then she went and knocked at
his door--a ceremony without which she never crossed the threshold of
this apartment. On entering it now she found him in his chair beside
the fire, entertaining himself with a cigar and the evening paper.
"I have something to say to you," she began very gently; and she sat
down in the first place that offered.
"I shall be very happy to hear it, my dear," said her father. He
waited--waited, looking at her, while she stared, in a long silence,
at the fire. He was curious and impatient, for he was sure she was
going to speak of Morris Townsend; but he let her take her own time,
for he was determined to be very mild.
"I am engaged to be married!" Catherine announced at last, still
staring at the fire.
The Doctor was startled; the accomplished fact was more than he had
expected. But he betrayed no surprise. "You do right to tell me,"
he simply said. "And who is the happy mortal whom you have honoured
with your choice?"
"Mr. Morris Townsend." And as she pronounced her lover's name,
Catherine looked at him. What she saw was her father's still grey
eye and his clear-cut, definite smile. She contemplated these
objects for a moment, and then she looked back at the fire; it was
"When was this arrangement made?" the Doctor asked.
"This afternoon--two hours ago."
"Was Mr. Townsend here?"
"Yes, father; in the front parlour." She was very glad that she was
not obliged to tell him that the ceremony of their betrothal had
taken place out there under the bare ailantus-trees.
"Is it serious?" said the Doctor.
"Very serious, father."
Her father was silent a moment. "Mr. Townsend ought to have told
"He means to tell you to-morrow."
"After I know all about it from you? He ought to have told me
before. Does he think I didn't care--because I left you so much
"Oh no," said Catherine; "he knew you would care. And we have been
so much obliged to you for--for the liberty."
The Doctor gave a short laugh. "You might have made a better use of
"Please don't say that, father," the girl urged softly, fixing her
dull and gentle eyes upon him.
He puffed his cigar awhile, meditatively. "You have gone very fast,"
he said at last.
"Yes," Catherine answered simply; "I think we have."
Her father glanced at her an instant, removing his eyes from the
fire. "I don't wonder Mr. Townsend likes you. You are so simple and
"I don't know why it is--but he DOES like me. I am sure of that."
"And are you very fond of Mr. Townsend?"
"I like him very much, of course--or I shouldn't consent to marry
"But you have known him a very short time, my dear."
"Oh," said Catherine, with some eagerness, "it doesn't take long to
like a person--when once you begin."
"You must have begun very quickly. Was it the first time you saw
him--that night at your aunt's party?"
"I don't know, father," the girl answered. "I can't tell you about
"Of course; that's your own affair. You will have observed that I
have acted on that principle. I have not interfered, I have left you
your liberty, I have remembered that you are no longer a little girl-
-that you have arrived at years of discretion."
"I feel very old--and very wise," said Catherine, smiling faintly.
"I am afraid that before long you will feel older and wiser yet. I
don't like your engagement."
"Ah!" Catherine exclaimed softly, getting up from her chair.
"No, my dear. I am sorry to give you pain; but I don't like it. You
should have consulted me before you settled it. I have been too easy
with you, and I feel as if you had taken advantage of my indulgence.
Most decidedly, you should have spoken to me first."
Catherine hesitated a moment, and then--"It was because I was afraid
you wouldn't like it!" she confessed.
"Ah, there it is! You had a bad conscience."
"No, I have not a bad conscience, father!" the girl cried out, with
considerable energy. "Please don't accuse me of anything so
dreadful." These words, in fact, represented to her imagination
something very terrible indeed, something base and cruel, which she
associated with malefactors and prisoners. "It was because I was
afraid--afraid--" she went on.
"If you were afraid, it was because you had been foolish!"
"I was afraid you didn't like Mr. Townsend."
"You were quite right. I don't like him."
"Dear father, you don't know him," said Catherine, in a voice so
timidly argumentative that it might have touched him.
"Very true; I don't know him intimately. But I know him enough. I
have my impression of him. You don't know him either."
She stood before the fire, with her hands lightly clasped in front of
her; and her father, leaning back in his chair and looking up at her,
made this remark with a placidity that might have been irritating.
I doubt, however, whether Catherine was irritated, though she broke
into a vehement protest. "I don't know him?" she cried. "Why, I
know him--better than I have ever known any one!"
"You know a part of him--what he has chosen to show you. But you
don't know the rest."
"The rest? What is the rest?"
"Whatever it may be. There is sure to be plenty of it."
"I know what you mean," said Catherine, remembering how Morris had
forewarned her. "You mean that he is mercenary."
Her father looked up at her still, with his cold, quiet reasonable
eye. "If I meant it, my dear, I should say it! But there is an
error I wish particularly to avoid--that of rendering Mr. Townsend
more interesting to you by saying hard things about him."
"I won't think them hard if they are true," said Catherine.
"If you don't, you will be a remarkably sensible young woman!"
"They will be your reasons, at any rate, and you will want me to hear
The Doctor smiled a little. "Very true. You have a perfect right to
ask for them." And he puffed his cigar a few moments. "Very well,
then, without accusing Mr. Townsend of being in love only with your
fortune--and with the fortune that you justly expect--I will say that
there is every reason to suppose that these good things have entered
into his calculation more largely than a tender solicitude for your
happiness strictly requires. There is, of course, nothing impossible
in an intelligent young man entertaining a disinterested affection
for you. You are an honest, amiable girl, and an intelligent young
man might easily find it out. But the principal thing that we know
about this young man--who is, indeed, very intelligent--leads us to
suppose that, however much he may value your personal merits, he
values your money more. The principal thing we know about him is
that he has led a life of dissipation, and has spent a fortune of his
own in doing so. That is enough for me, my dear. I wish you to
marry a young man with other antecedents--a young man who could give
positive guarantees. If Morris Townsend has spent his own fortune in
amusing himself, there is every reason to believe that he would spend
The Doctor delivered himself of these remarks slowly, deliberately,
with occasional pauses and prolongations of accent, which made no
great allowance for poor Catherine's suspense as to his conclusion.
She sat down at last, with her head bent and her eyes still fixed
upon him; and strangely enough--I hardly know how to tell it--even
while she felt that what he said went so terribly against her, she
admired his neatness and nobleness of expression. There was
something hopeless and oppressive in having to argue with her father;
but she too, on her side, must try to be clear. He was so quiet; he
was not at all angry; and she too must be quiet. But her very effort
to be quiet made her tremble.
"That is not the principal thing we know about him," she said; and
there was a touch of her tremor in her voice. "There are other
things--many other things. He has very high abilities--he wants so
much to do something. He is kind, and generous, and true," said poor
Catherine, who had not suspected hitherto the resources of her
eloquence. "And his fortune--his fortune that he spent--was very
"All the more reason he shouldn't have spent it," cried the Doctor,
getting up, with a laugh. Then as Catherine, who had also risen to
her feet again, stood there in her rather angular earnestness,
wishing so much and expressing so little, he drew her towards him and
kissed her. "You won't think me cruel?" he said, holding her a
This question was not reassuring; it seemed to Catherine, on the
contrary, to suggest possibilities which made her feel sick. But she
answered coherently enough--"No, dear father; because if you knew how
I feel--and you must know, you know everything--you would be so kind,
"Yes, I think I know how you feel," the Doctor said. "I will be very
kind--be sure of that. And I will see Mr. Townsend to-morrow.
Meanwhile, and for the present, be so good as to mention to no one
that you are engaged."
On the morrow, in the afternoon, he stayed at home, awaiting Mr.
Townsend's call--a proceeding by which it appeared to him (justly
perhaps, for he was a very busy man) that he paid Catherine's suitor
great honour, and gave both these young people so much the less to
complain of. Morris presented himself with a countenance
sufficiently serene--he appeared to have forgotten the "insult" for
which he had solicited Catherine's sympathy two evenings before, and
Dr. Sloper lost no time in letting him know that he had been prepared
for his visit.
"Catherine told me yesterday what has been going on between you," he
said. "You must allow me to say that it would have been becoming of
you to give me notice of your intentions before they had gone so
"I should have done so," Morris answered, "if you had not had so much
the appearance of leaving your daughter at liberty. She seems to me
quite her own mistress."
"Literally, she is. But she has not emancipated herself morally
quite so far, I trust, as to choose a husband without consulting me.
I have left her at liberty, but I have not been in the least
indifferent. The truth is that your little affair has come to a head
with a rapidity that surprises me. It was only the other day that
Catherine made your acquaintance."
"It was not long ago, certainly," said Morris, with great gravity.
"I admit that we have not been slow to--to arrive at an
understanding. But that was very natural, from the moment we were
sure of ourselves--and of each other. My interest in Miss Sloper
began the first time I saw her."
"Did it not by chance precede your first meeting?" the Doctor asked.
Morris looked at him an instant. "I certainly had already heard that
she was a charming girl."
"A charming girl--that's what you think her?"
"Assuredly. Otherwise I should not be sitting here."
The Doctor meditated a moment. "My dear young man," he said at last,
"you must be very susceptible. As Catherine's father, I have, I
trust, a just and tender appreciation of her many good qualities; but
I don't mind telling you that I have never thought of her as a
charming girl, and never expected any one else to do so."
Morris Townsend received this statement with a smile that was not
wholly devoid of deference. "I don't know what I might think of her
if I were her father. I can't put myself in that place. I speak
from my own point of view."
"You speak very well," said the Doctor; "but that is not all that is
necessary. I told Catherine yesterday that I disapproved of her
"She let me know as much, and I was very sorry to hear it. I am
greatly disappointed." And Morris sat in silence awhile, looking at
"Did you really expect I would say I was delighted, and throw my
daughter into your arms?"
"Oh no; I had an idea you didn't like me."
"What gave you the idea?"
"The fact that I am poor."
"That has a harsh sound," said the Doctor, "but it is about the
truth--speaking of you strictly as a son-in-law. Your absence of
means, of a profession, of visible resources or prospects, places you
in a category from which it would be imprudent for me to select a
husband for my daughter, who is a weak young woman with a large
fortune. In any other capacity I am perfectly prepared to like you.
As a son-in-law, I abominate you!"
Morris Townsend listened respectfully. "I don't think Miss Sloper is
a weak woman," he presently said.
"Of course you must defend her--it's the least you can do. But I
have known my child twenty years, and you have known her six weeks.
Even if she were not weak, however, you would still be a penniless
"Ah, yes; that is MY weakness! And therefore, you mean, I am
mercenary--I only want your daughter's money."
"I don't say that. I am not obliged to say it; and to say it, save
under stress of compulsion, would be very bad taste. I say simply
that you belong to the wrong category."
"But your daughter doesn't marry a category," Townsend urged, with
his handsome smile. "She marries an individual--an individual whom
she is so good as to say she loves."
"An individual who offers so little in return!"
"Is it possible to offer more than the most tender affection and a
lifelong devotion?" the young man demanded.
"It depends how we take it. It is possible to offer a few other
things besides; and not only is it possible, but it's usual. A
lifelong devotion is measured after the fact; and meanwhile it is
customary in these cases to give a few material securities. What are
yours? A very handsome face and figure, and a very good manner.
They are excellent as far as they go, but they don't go far enough."
"There is one thing you should add to them," said Morris; "the word
of a gentleman!"
"The word of a gentleman that you will always love Catherine? You
must be a very fine gentleman to be sure of that."
"The word of a gentleman that I am not mercenary; that my affection
for Miss Sloper is as pure and disinterested a sentiment as was ever
lodged in a human breast! I care no more for her fortune than for
the ashes in that grate."
"I take note--I take note," said the Doctor. "But having done so, I
turn to our category again. Even with that solemn vow on your lips,
you take your place in it. There is nothing against you but an
accident, if you will; but with my thirty years' medical practice, I
have seen that accidents may have far-reaching consequences."
Morris smoothed his hat--it was already remarkably glossy--and
continued to display a self-control which, as the Doctor was obliged
to admit, was extremely creditable to him. But his disappointment
was evidently keen.
"Is there nothing I can do to make you believe in me?"
"If there were I should be sorry to suggest it, for--don't you see?--
I don't want to believe in you!" said the Doctor, smiling.
"I would go and dig in the fields."
"That would be foolish."
"I will take the first work that offers, to-morrow."
"Do so by all means--but for your own sake, not for mine."
"I see; you think I am an idler!" Morris exclaimed, a little too much
in the tone of a man who has made a discovery. But he saw his error
immediately, and blushed.
"It doesn't matter what I think, when once I have told you I don't
think of you as a son-in-law."
But Morris persisted. "You think I would squander her money."
The Doctor smiled. "It doesn't matter, as I say; but I plead guilty
"That's because I spent my own, I suppose," said Morris. "I frankly
confess that. I have been wild. I have been foolish. I will tell
you every crazy thing I ever did, if you like. There were some great
follies among the number--I have never concealed that. But I have
sown my wild oats. Isn't there some proverb about a reformed rake?
I was not a rake, but I assure you I have reformed. It is better to
have amused oneself for a while and have done with it. Your daughter
would never care for a milksop; and I will take the liberty of saying
that you would like one quite as little. Besides, between my money
and hers there is a great difference. I spent my own; it was because
it was my own that I spent it. And I made no debts; when it was gone
I stopped. I don't owe a penny in the world."
"Allow me to inquire what you are living on now--though I admit," the
Doctor added, "that the question, on my part, is inconsistent."
"I am living on the remnants of my property," said Morris Townsend.
"Thank you!" the Doctor gravely replied.
Yes, certainly, Morris's self-control was laudable. "Even admitting
I attach an undue importance to Miss Sloper's fortune," he went on,
"would not that be in itself an assurance that I should take much
care of it?"
"That you should take too much care would be quite as bad as that you
should take too little. Catherine might suffer as much by your
economy as by your extravagance."
"I think you are very unjust!" The young man made this declaration
decently, civilly, without violence.
"It is your privilege to think so, and I surrender my reputation to
you! I certainly don't flatter myself I gratify you."
"Don't you care a little to gratify your daughter? Do you enjoy the
idea of making her miserable?"
"I am perfectly resigned to her thinking me a tyrant for a
"For a twelvemonth!" exclaimed Morris, with a laugh.
"For a lifetime, then! She may as well be miserable in that way as
in the other."
Here at last Morris lost his temper. "Ah, you are not polite, sir!"
"You push me to it--you argue too much."
"I have a great deal at stake."
"Well, whatever it is," said the Doctor, "you have lost it!"
"Are you sure of that?" asked Morris; "are you sure your daughter
will give me up?"
"I mean, of course, you have lost it as far as I am concerned. As
for Catherine's giving you up--no, I am not sure of it. But as I
shall strongly recommend it, as I have a great fund of respect and
affection in my daughter's mind to draw upon, and as she has the
sentiment of duty developed in a very high degree, I think it
Morris Townsend began to smooth his hat again. "I too have a fund of
affection to draw upon!" he observed at last.
The Doctor at this point showed his own first symptoms of irritation.
"Do you mean to defy me?"
"Call it what you please, sir! I mean not to give your daughter up."
The Doctor shook his head. "I haven't the least fear of your pining
away your life. You are made to enjoy it."
Morris gave a laugh. "Your opposition to my marriage is all the more
cruel, then! Do you intend to forbid your daughter to see me again?"
"She is past the age at which people are forbidden, and I am not a
father in an old-fashioned novel. But I shall strongly urge her to
break with you."
"I don't think she will," said Morris Townsend.
"Perhaps not. But I shall have done what I could."
"She has gone too far," Morris went on.
"To retreat? Then let her stop where she is."
"Too far to stop, I mean."
The Doctor looked at him a moment; Morris had his hand on the door.
"There is a great deal of impertinence in your saying it."
"I will say no more, sir!" Morris answered; and, making his bow, he
left the room.
It may be thought the Doctor was too positive, and Mrs. Almond
intimated as much. But, as he said, he had his impression; it seemed
to him sufficient, and he had no wish to modify it. He had passed
his life in estimating people (it was part of the medical trade), and
in nineteen cases out of twenty he was right.
"Perhaps Mr. Townsend is the twentieth case," Mrs. Almond suggested.
"Perhaps he is, though he doesn't look to me at all like a twentieth
case. But I will give him the benefit of the doubt, and, to make
sure, I will go and talk with Mrs. Montgomery. She will almost
certainly tell me I have done right; but it is just possible that she
will prove to me that I have made the greatest mistake of my life.
If she does, I will beg Mr. Townsend's pardon. You needn't invite
her to meet me, as you kindly proposed; I will write her a frank
letter, telling her how matters stand, and asking leave to come and
"I am afraid the frankness will be chiefly on your side. The poor
little woman will stand up for her brother, whatever he may be."
"Whatever he may be? I doubt that. People are not always so fond of
"Ah," said Mrs. Almond, "when it's a question of thirty thousand a
year coming into a family--"
"If she stands up for him on account of the money, she will be a
humbug. If she is a humbug I shall see it. If I see it, I won't
waste time with her."
"She is not a humbug--she is an exemplary woman. She will not wish
to play her brother a trick simply because he is selfish."
"If she is worth talking to, she will sooner play him a trick than
that he should play Catherine one. Has she seen Catherine, by the
way--does she know her?"
"Not to my knowledge. Mr. Townsend can have had no particular
interest in bringing them together."
"If she is an exemplary woman, no. But we shall see to what extent
she answers your description."
"I shall be curious to hear her description of you!" said Mrs.
Almond, with a laugh. "And, meanwhile, how is Catherine taking it?"
"As she takes everything--as a matter of course."
"Doesn't she make a noise? Hasn't she made a scene?"
"She is not scenic."
"I thought a love-lorn maiden was always scenic."
"A fantastic widow is more so. Lavinia has made me a speech; she
thinks me very arbitrary."
"She has a talent for being in the wrong," said Mrs. Almond. "But I
am very sorry for Catherine, all the same."
"So am I. But she will get over it."
"You believe she will give him up?"
"I count upon it. She has such an admiration for her father."
"Oh, we know all about that! But it only makes me pity her the more.
It makes her dilemma the more painful, and the effort of choosing
between you and her lover almost impossible."
"If she can't choose, all the better."
"Yes, but he will stand there entreating her to choose, and Lavinia
will pull on that side."
"I am glad she is not on my side; she is capable of ruining an
excellent cause. The day Lavinia gets into your boat it capsizes.
But she had better be careful," said the Doctor. "I will have no
treason in my house!"
"I suspect she will be careful; for she is at bottom very much afraid
"They are both afraid of me--harmless as I am!" the Doctor answered.
"And it is on that that I build--on the salutary terror I inspire!"
He wrote his frank letter to Mrs. Montgomery, who punctually answered
it, mentioning an hour at which he might present himself in the
Second Avenue. She lived in a neat little house of red brick, which
had been freshly painted, with the edges of the bricks very sharply
marked out in white. It has now disappeared, with its companions, to
make room for a row of structures more majestic. There were green
shutters upon the windows, without slats, but pierced with little
holes, arranged in groups; and before the house was a diminutive
yard, ornamented with a bush of mysterious character, and surrounded
by a low wooden paling, painted in the same green as the shutters.
The place looked like a magnified baby-house, and might have been
taken down from a shelf in a toy-shop. Dr. Sloper, when he went to
call, said to himself, as he glanced at the objects I have
enumerated, that Mrs. Montgomery was evidently a thrifty and self-
respecting little person--the modest proportions of her dwelling
seemed to indicate that she was of small stature--who took a virtuous
satisfaction in keeping herself tidy, and had resolved that, since
she might not be splendid, she would at least be immaculate. She
received him in a little parlour, which was precisely the parlour he
had expected: a small unspeckled bower, ornamented with a desultory
foliage of tissue-paper, and with clusters of glass drops, amid
which--to carry out the analogy--the temperature of the leafy season
was maintained by means of a cast-iron stove, emitting a dry blue
flame, and smelling strongly of varnish. The walls were embellished
with engravings swathed in pink gauze, and the tables ornamented with
volumes of extracts from the poets, usually bound in black cloth
stamped with florid designs in jaundiced gilt. The Doctor had time
to take cognisance of these details, for Mrs. Montgomery, whose
conduct he pronounced under the circumstances inexcusable, kept him
waiting some ten minutes before she appeared. At last, however, she
rustled in, smoothing down a stiff poplin dress, with a little
frightened flush in a gracefully-rounded cheek.
She was a small, plump, fair woman, with a bright, clear eye, and an
extraordinary air of neatness and briskness. But these qualities
were evidently combined with an unaffected humility, and the Doctor
gave her his esteem as soon as he had looked at her. A brave little
person, with lively perceptions, and yet a disbelief in her own
talent for social, as distinguished from practical, affairs--this was
his rapid mental resume of Mrs. Montgomery, who, as he saw, was
flattered by what she regarded as the honour of his visit. Mrs.
Montgomery, in her little red house in the Second Avenue, was a
person for whom Dr. Sloper was one of the great men, one of the fine
gentlemen of New York; and while she fixed her agitated eyes upon
him, while she clasped her mittened hands together in her glossy
poplin lap, she had the appearance of saying to herself that he quite
answered her idea of what a distinguished guest would naturally be.
She apologised for being late; but he interrupted her.
"It doesn't matter," he said; "for while I sat here I had time to
think over what I wish to say to you, and to make up my mind how to
"Oh, do begin!" murmured Mrs. Montgomery.
"It is not so easy," said the Doctor, smiling. "You will have
gathered from my letter that I wish to ask you a few questions, and
you may not find it very comfortable to answer them."
"Yes; I have thought what I should say. It is not very easy."
"But you must understand my situation--my state of mind. Your
brother wishes to marry my daughter, and I wish to find out what sort
of a young man he is. A good way to do so seemed to be to come and
ask you; which I have proceeded to do."
Mrs. Montgomery evidently took the situation very seriously; she was
in a state of extreme moral concentration. She kept her pretty eyes,
which were illumined by a sort of brilliant modesty, attached to his
own countenance, and evidently paid the most earnest attention to
each of his words. Her expression indicated that she thought his
idea of coming to see her a very superior conception, but that she
was really afraid to have opinions on strange subjects.
"I am extremely glad to see you," she said, in a tone which seemed to
admit, at the same time, that this had nothing to do with the
The Doctor took advantage of this admission. "I didn't come to see
you for your pleasure; I came to make you say disagreeable things--
and you can't like that. What sort of a gentleman is your brother?"
Mrs. Montgomery's illuminated gaze grew vague, and began to wander.
She smiled a little, and for some time made no answer, so that the
Doctor at last became impatient. And her answer, when it came, was
not satisfactory. "It is difficult to talk about one's brother."
"Not when one is fond of him, and when one has plenty of good to
"Yes, even then, when a good deal depends on it," said Mrs.
"Nothing depends on it, for you."
"I mean for--for--" and she hesitated.
"For your brother himself. I see!"
"I mean for Miss Sloper," said Mrs. Montgomery. The Doctor liked
this; it had the accent of sincerity. "Exactly; that's the point.
If my poor girl should marry your brother, everything--as regards her
happiness--would depend on his being a good fellow. She is the best
creature in the world, and she could never do him a grain of injury.
He, on the other hand, if he should not be all that we desire, might
make her very miserable. That is why I want you to throw some light
upon his character, you know. Of course you are not bound to do it.
My daughter, whom you have never seen, is nothing to you; and I,
possibly, am only an indiscreet and impertinent old man. It is
perfectly open to you to tell me that my visit is in very bad taste
and that I had better go about my business. But I don't think you
will do this; because I think we shall interest you, my poor girl and
I. I am sure that if you were to see Catherine, she would interest
you very much. I don't mean because she is interesting in the usual
sense of the word, but because you would feel sorry for her. She is
so soft, so simple-minded, she would be such an easy victim! A bad
husband would have remarkable facilities for making her miserable;
for she would have neither the intelligence nor the resolution to get
the better of him, and yet she would have an exaggerated power of
suffering. I see," added the Doctor, with his most insinuating, his
most professional laugh, "you are already interested!"
"I have been interested from the moment he told me he was engaged,"
said Mrs. Montgomery.
"Ah! he says that--he calls it an engagement?"
"Oh, he has told me you didn't like it."
"Did he tell you that I don't like HIM?"
"Yes, he told me that too. I said I couldn't help it!" added Mrs.
"Of course you can't. But what you can do is to tell me I am right--
to give me an attestation, as it were." And the Doctor accompanied
this remark with another professional smile.
Mrs. Montgomery, however, smiled not at all; it was obvious that she
could not take the humorous view of his appeal. "That is a good deal
to ask," she said at last.
"There can be no doubt of that; and I must, in conscience, remind you
of the advantages a young man marrying my daughter would enjoy. She
has an income of ten thousand dollars in her own right, left her by
her mother; if she marries a husband I approve, she will come into
almost twice as much more at my death."
Mrs. Montgomery listened in great earnestness to this splendid
financial statement; she had never heard thousands of dollars so
familiarly talked about. She flushed a little with excitement.
"Your daughter will be immensely rich," she said softly.
"Precisely--that's the bother of it."
"And if Morris should marry her, he--he--" And she hesitated
"He would be master of all that money? By no means. He would be
master of the ten thousand a year that she has from her mother; but I
should leave every penny of my own fortune, earned in the laborious
exercise of my profession, to public institutions."
Mrs. Montgomery dropped her eyes at this, and sat for some time
gazing at the straw matting which covered her floor.
"I suppose it seems to you," said the Doctor, laughing, "that in so
doing I should play your brother a very shabby trick."
"Not at all. That is too much money to get possession of so easily,
by marrying. I don't think it would be right."
"It's right to get all one can. But in this case your brother
wouldn't be able. If Catherine marries without my consent, she
doesn't get a penny from my own pocket."
"Is that certain?" asked Mrs. Montgomery, looking up.
"As certain as that I sit here!"
"Even if she should pine away?"
"Even if she should pine to a shadow, which isn't probable."
"Does Morris know this?"
"I shall be most happy to inform him!" the Doctor exclaimed.
Mrs. Montgomery resumed her meditations, and her visitor, who was
prepared to give time to the affair, asked himself whether, in spite
of her little conscientious air, she was not playing into her
brother's hands. At the same time he was half ashamed of the ordeal
to which he had subjected her, and was touched by the gentleness with
which she bore it. "If she were a humbug," he said, "she would get
angry; unless she be very deep indeed. It is not probable that she
is as deep as that."
"What makes you dislike Morris so much?" she presently asked,
emerging from her reflexions.
"I don't dislike him in the least as a friend, as a companion. He
seems to me a charming fellow, and I should think he would be
excellent company. I dislike him, exclusively, as a son-in-law. If
the only office of a son-in-law were to dine at the paternal table, I
should set a high value upon your brother. He dines capitally. But
that is a small part of his function, which, in general, is to be a
protector and caretaker of my child, who is singularly ill-adapted to
take care of herself. It is there that he doesn't satisfy me. I
confess I have nothing but my impression to go by; but I am in the
habit of trusting my impression. Of course you are at liberty to
contradict it flat. He strikes me as selfish and shallow."
Mrs. Montgomery's eyes expanded a little, and the Doctor fancied he
saw the light of admiration in them. "I wonder you have discovered
he is selfish!" she exclaimed.
"Do you think he hides it so well?"
"Very well indeed," said Mrs. Montgomery. "And I think we are all
rather selfish," she added quickly.
"I think so too; but I have seen people hide it better than he. You
see I am helped by a habit I have of dividing people into classes,
into types. I may easily be mistaken about your brother as an
individual, but his type is written on his whole person."
"He is very good-looking," said Mrs. Montgomery.
The Doctor eyed her a moment. "You women are all the same! But the
type to which your brother belongs was made to be the ruin of you,
and you were made to be its handmaids and victims. The sign of the
type in question is the determination--sometimes terrible in its
quiet intensity--to accept nothing of life but its pleasures, and to
secure these pleasures chiefly by the aid of your complaisant sex.
Young men of this class never do anything for themselves that they
can get other people to do for them, and it is the infatuation, the
devotion, the superstition of others that keeps them going. These
others in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred are women. What our
young friends chiefly insist upon is that some one else shall suffer
for them; and women do that sort of thing, as you must know,
wonderfully well." The Doctor paused a moment, and then he added
abruptly, "You have suffered immensely for your brother!"
This exclamation was abrupt, as I say, but it was also perfectly
calculated. The Doctor had been rather disappointed at not finding
his compact and comfortable little hostess surrounded in a more
visible degree by the ravages of Morris Townsend's immorality; but he
had said to himself that this was not because the young man had
spared her, but because she had contrived to plaster up her wounds.
They were aching there, behind the varnished stove, the festooned
engravings, beneath her own neat little poplin bosom; and if he could
only touch the tender spot, she would make a movement that would
betray her. The words I have just quoted were an attempt to put his
finger suddenly upon the place; and they had some of the success that
he looked for. The tears sprang for a moment to Mrs. Montgomery's
eyes, and she indulged in a proud little jerk of the head.
"I don't know how you have found that out!" she exclaimed.
"By a philosophic trick--by what they call induction. You know you
have always your option of contradicting me. But kindly answer me a
question. Don't you give your brother money? I think you ought to
"Yes, I have given him money," said Mrs. Montgomery.
"And you have not had much to give him?"
She was silent a moment. "If you ask me for a confession of poverty,
that is easily made. I am very poor."
"One would never suppose it from your--your charming house," said the
Doctor. "I learned from my sister that your income was moderate, and
your family numerous."
"I have five children," Mrs. Montgomery observed; "but I am happy to
say I can bring them up decently."
"Of course you can--accomplished and devoted as you are! But your
brother has counted them over, I suppose?"
"Counted them over?"
"He knows there are five, I mean. He tells me it is he that brings
Mrs. Montgomery stared a moment, and then quickly--"Oh yes; he
teaches them Spanish."
The Doctor laughed out. "That must take a great deal off your hands!
Your brother also knows, of course, that you have very little money."
"I have often told him so!" Mrs. Montgomery exclaimed, more
unreservedly than she had yet spoken. She was apparently taking some
comfort in the Doctor's clairvoyancy.
"Which means that you have often occasion to, and that he often
sponges on you. Excuse the crudity of my language; I simply express
a fact. I don't ask you how much of your money he has had, it is
none of my business. I have ascertained what I suspected--what I
wished." And the Doctor got up, gently smoothing his hat. "Your
brother lives on you," he said as he stood there.
Mrs. Montgomery quickly rose from her chair, following her visitor's
movements with a look of fascination. But then, with a certain
inconsequence--"I have never complained of him!" she said.
"You needn't protest--you have not betrayed him. But I advise you
not to give him any more money."
"Don't you see it is in my interest that he should marry a rich
person?" she asked. "If, as you say, he lives on me, I can only wish
to get rid of him, and to put obstacles in the way of his marrying is
to increase my own difficulties."
"I wish very much you would come to me with your difficulties," said
the Doctor. "Certainly, if I throw him back on your hands, the least
I can do is to help you to bear the burden. If you will allow me to
say so, then, I shall take the liberty of placing in your hands, for
the present, a certain fund for your brother's support."
Mrs. Montgomery stared; she evidently thought he was jesting; but she
presently saw that he was not, and the complication of her feelings
became painful. "It seems to me that I ought to be very much
offended with you," she murmured.
"Because I have offered you money? That's a superstition," said the
Doctor. "You must let me come and see you again, and we will talk
about these things. I suppose that some of your children are girls."
"I have two little girls," said Mrs. Montgomery.
"Well, when they grow up, and begin to think of taking husbands, you
will see how anxious you will be about the moral character of these
gentlemen. Then you will understand this visit of mine!"
"Ah, you are not to believe that Morris's moral character is bad!"
The Doctor looked at her a little, with folded arms. "There is
something I should greatly like--as a moral satisfaction. I should
like to hear you say--'He is abominably selfish!'"
The words came out with the grave distinctness of his voice, and they
seemed for an instant to create, to poor Mrs. Montgomery's troubled
vision, a material image. She gazed at it an instant, and then she
turned away. "You distress me, sir!" she exclaimed. "He is, after
all, my brother, and his talents, his talents--" On these last words
her voice quavered, and before he knew it she had burst into tears.
"His talents are first-rate!" said the Doctor. "We must find a
proper field for them!" And he assured her most respectfully of his
regret at having so greatly discomposed her. "It's all for my poor
Catherine," he went on. "You must know her, and you will see."
Mrs. Montgomery brushed away her tears, and blushed at having shed
them. "I should like to know your daughter," she answered; and then,
in an instant--"Don't let her marry him!"
Dr. Sloper went away with the words gently humming in his ears--
"Don't let her marry him!" They gave him the moral satisfaction of
which he had just spoken, and their value was the greater that they
had evidently cost a pang to poor little Mrs. Montgomery's family
He had been puzzled by the way that Catherine carried herself; her
attitude at this sentimental crisis seemed to him unnaturally
passive. She had not spoken to him again after that scene in the
library, the day before his interview with Morris; and a week had
elapsed without making any change in her manner. There was nothing
in it that appealed for pity, and he was even a little disappointed
at her not giving him an opportunity to make up for his harshness by
some manifestation of liberality which should operate as a
compensation. He thought a little of offering to take her for a tour
in Europe; but he was determined to do this only in case she should
seem mutely to reproach him. He had an idea that she would display a
talent for mute reproaches, and he was surprised at not finding
himself exposed to these silent batteries. She said nothing, either
tacitly or explicitly, and as she was never very talkative, there was
now no especial eloquence in her reserve. And poor Catherine was not
sulky--a style of behaviour for which she had too little histrionic
talent; she was simply very patient. Of course she was thinking over
her situation, and she was apparently doing so in a deliberate and
unimpassioned manner, with a view of making the best of it.
"She will do as I have bidden her," said the Doctor, and he made the
further reflexion that his daughter was not a woman of a great
spirit. I know not whether he had hoped for a little more resistance
for the sake of a little more entertainment; but he said to himself,
as he had said before, that though it might have its momentary
alarms, paternity was, after all, not an exciting vocation.
Catherine, meanwhile, had made a discovery of a very different sort;
it had become vivid to her that there was a great excitement in
trying to be a good daughter. She had an entirely new feeling, which
may be described as a state of expectant suspense about her own
actions. She watched herself as she would have watched another
person, and wondered what she would do. It was as if this other
person, who was both herself and not herself, had suddenly sprung
into being, inspiring her with a natural curiosity as to the
performance of untested functions.
"I am glad I have such a good daughter," said her father, kissing
her, after the lapse of several days.
"I am trying to be good," she answered, turning away, with a
conscience not altogether clear.
"If there is anything you would like to say to me, you know you must
not hesitate. You needn't feel obliged to be so quiet. I shouldn't
care that Mr. Townsend should be a frequent topic of conversation,
but whenever you have anything particular to say about him I shall be
very glad to hear it."
"Thank you," said Catherine; "I have nothing particular at present."
He never asked her whether she had seen Morris again, because he was
sure that if this had been the case she would tell him. She had, in
fact, not seen him, she had only written him a long letter. The
letter at least was long for her; and, it may be added, that it was
long for Morris; it consisted of five pages, in a remarkably neat and
handsome hand. Catherine's handwriting was beautiful, and she was
even a little proud of it; she was extremely fond of copying, and
possessed volumes of extracts which testified to this accomplishment;
volumes which she had exhibited one day to her lover, when the bliss
of feeling that she was important in his eyes was exceptionally keen.
She told Morris in writing that her father had expressed the wish
that she should not see him again, and that she begged he would not
come to the house until she should have "made up her mind." Morris
replied with a passionate epistle, in which he asked to what, in
Heaven's name, she wished to make up her mind. Had not her mind been
made up two weeks before, and could it be possible that she
entertained the idea of throwing him off? Did she mean to break down
at the very beginning of their ordeal, after all the promises of
fidelity she had both given and extracted? And he gave an account of
his own interview with her father--an account not identical at all
points with that offered in these pages. "He was terribly violent,"
Morris wrote; "but you know my self-control. I have need of it all
when I remember that I have it in my power to break in upon your
cruel captivity." Catherine sent him, in answer to this, a note of
three lines. "I am in great trouble; do not doubt of my affection,
but let me wait a little and think." The idea of a struggle with her
father, of setting up her will against his own, was heavy on her
soul, and it kept her formally submissive, as a great physical weight
keeps us motionless. It never entered into her mind to throw her
lover off; but from the first she tried to assure herself that there
would be a peaceful way out of their difficulty. The assurance was
vague, for it contained no element of positive conviction that her
father would change his mind. She only had an idea that if she
should be very good, the situation would in some mysterious manner
improve. To be good, she must be patient, respectful, abstain from
judging her father too harshly, and from committing any act of open
defiance. He was perhaps right, after all, to think as he did; by
which Catherine meant not in the least that his judgement of Morris's
motives in seeking to marry her was perhaps a just one, but that it
was probably natural and proper that conscientious parents should be
suspicious and even unjust. There were probably people in the world
as bad as her father supposed Morris to be, and if there were the
slightest chance of Morris being one of these sinister persons, the
Doctor was right in taking it into account. Of course he could not
know what she knew, how the purest love and truth were seated in the
young man's eyes; but Heaven, in its time, might appoint a way of
bringing him to such knowledge. Catherine expected a good deal of
Heaven, and referred to the skies the initiative, as the French say,
in dealing with her dilemma. She could not imagine herself imparting
any kind of knowledge to her father, there was something superior
even in his injustice and absolute in his mistakes. But she could at
least be good, and if she were only good enough, Heaven would invent
some way of reconciling all things--the dignity of her father's
errors and the sweetness of her own confidence, the strict
performance of her filial duties and the enjoyment of Morris
Townsend's affection. Poor Catherine would have been glad to regard
Mrs. Penniman as an illuminating agent, a part which this lady
herself indeed was but imperfectly prepared to play. Mrs. Penniman
took too much satisfaction in the sentimental shadows of this little
drama to have, for the moment, any great interest in dissipating
them. She wished the plot to thicken, and the advice that she gave
her niece tended, in her own imagination, to produce this result. It
was rather incoherent counsel, and from one day to another it
contradicted itself; but it was pervaded by an earnest desire that
Catherine should do something striking. "You must ACT, my dear; in
your situation the great thing is to act," said Mrs. Penniman, who
found her niece altogether beneath her opportunities. Mrs.
Penniman's real hope was that the girl would make a secret marriage,
at which she should officiate as brideswoman or duenna. She had a
vision of this ceremony being performed in some subterranean chapel--
subterranean chapels in New York were not frequent, but Mrs.
Penniman's imagination was not chilled by trifles--and of the guilty
couple--she liked to think of poor Catherine and her suitor as the
guilty couple--being shuffled away in a fast-whirling vehicle to some
obscure lodging in the suburbs, where she would pay them (in a thick
veil) clandestine visits, where they would endure a period of
romantic privation, and where ultimately, after she should have been
their earthly providence, their intercessor, their advocate, and
their medium of communication with the world, they should be
reconciled to her brother in an artistic tableau, in which she
herself should be somehow the central figure. She hesitated as yet
to recommend this course to Catherine, but she attempted to draw an
attractive picture of it to Morris Townsend. She was in daily
communication with the young man, whom she kept informed by letters
of the state of affairs in Washington Square. As he had been
banished, as she said, from the house, she no longer saw him; but she
ended by writing to him that she longed for an interview. This
interview could take place only on neutral ground, and she bethought
herself greatly before selecting a place of meeting. She had an
inclination for Greenwood Cemetery, but she gave it up as too
distant; she could not absent herself for so long, as she said,
without exciting suspicion. Then she thought of the Battery, but
that was rather cold and windy, besides one's being exposed to
intrusion from the Irish emigrants who at this point alight, with
large appetites, in the New World and at last she fixed upon an
oyster saloon in the Seventh Avenue, kept by a negro--an
establishment of which she knew nothing save that she had noticed it
in passing. She made an appointment with Morris Townsend to meet him
there, and she went to the tryst at dusk, enveloped in an
impenetrable veil. He kept her waiting for half an hour--he had
almost the whole width of the city to traverse--but she liked to
wait, it seemed to intensify the situation. She ordered a cup of
tea, which proved excessively bad, and this gave her a sense that she
was suffering in a romantic cause. When Morris at last arrived, they
sat together for half an hour in the duskiest corner of a back shop;
and it is hardly too much to say that this was the happiest half-hour
that Mrs. Penniman had known for years. The situation was really
thrilling, and it scarcely seemed to her a false note when her
companion asked for an oyster stew, and proceeded to consume it
before her eyes. Morris, indeed, needed all the satisfaction that
stewed oysters could give him, for it may be intimated to the reader
that he regarded Mrs. Penniman in the light of a fifth wheel to his
coach. He was in a state of irritation natural to a gentleman of
fine parts who had been snubbed in a benevolent attempt to confer a
distinction upon a young woman of inferior characteristics, and the
insinuating sympathy of this somewhat desiccated matron appeared to
offer him no practical relief. He thought her a humbug, and he
judged of humbugs with a good deal of confidence. He had listened
and made himself agreeable to her at first, in order to get a footing
in Washington Square; and at present he needed all his self-command
to be decently civil. It would have gratified him to tell her that
she was a fantastic old woman, and that he should like to put her
into an omnibus and send her home. We know, however, that Morris
possessed the virtue of self-control, and he had, moreover, the
constant habit of seeking to be agreeable; so that, although Mrs.
Penniman's demeanour only exasperated his already unquiet nerves, he
listened to her with a sombre deference in which she found much to
They had of course immediately spoken of Catherine. "Did she send me
a message, or--or anything?" Morris asked. He appeared to think that
she might have sent him a trinket or a lock of her hair.
Mrs. Penniman was slightly embarrassed, for she had not told her
niece of her intended expedition. "Not exactly a message," she said;
"I didn't ask her for one, because I was afraid to--to excite her."
"I am afraid she is not very excitable!" And Morris gave a smile of
"She is better than that. She is steadfast--she is true!"
"Do you think she will hold fast, then?"
"To the death!"
"Oh, I hope it won't come to that," said Morris.
"We must be prepared for the worst, and that is what I wish to speak
to you about."
"What do you call the worst?"
"Well," said Mrs. Penniman, "my brother's hard, intellectual nature."
"Oh, the devil!"
"He is impervious to pity," Mrs. Penniman added, by way of
"Do you mean that he won't come round?"
"He will never be vanquished by argument. I have studied him. He
will be vanquished only by the accomplished fact."
"The accomplished fact?"
"He will come round afterwards," said Mrs. Penniman, with extreme
significance. "He cares for nothing but facts; he must be met by
"Well," rejoined Morris, "it is a fact that I wish to marry his
daughter. I met him with that the other day, but he was not at all
Mrs. Penniman was silent a little, and her smile beneath the shadow
of her capacious bonnet, on the edge of which her black veil was
arranged curtain-wise, fixed itself upon Morris's face with a still
more tender brilliancy. "Marry Catherine first and meet him
afterwards!" she exclaimed.
"Do you recommend that?" asked the young man, frowning heavily.
She was a little frightened, but she went on with considerable
boldness. "That is the way I see it: a private marriage--a private
marriage." She repeated the phrase because she liked it.
"Do you mean that I should carry Catherine off? What do they call
it--elope with her?"
"It is not a crime when you are driven to it," said Mrs. Penniman.
"My husband, as I have told you, was a distinguished clergyman; one
of the most eloquent men of his day. He once married a young couple
that had fled from the house of the young lady's father. He was so
interested in their story. He had no hesitation, and everything came
out beautifully. The father was afterwards reconciled, and thought
everything of the young man. Mr. Penniman married them in the
evening, about seven o'clock. The church was so dark, you could
scarcely see; and Mr. Penniman was intensely agitated; he was so
sympathetic. I don't believe he could have done it again."
"Unfortunately Catherine and I have not Mr. Penniman to marry us,"
"No, but you have me!" rejoined Mrs. Penniman expressively. "I can't
perform the ceremony, but I can help you. I can watch."
"The woman's an idiot," thought Morris; but he was obliged to say
something different. It was not, however, materially more civil.
"Was it in order to tell me this that you requested I would meet you
Mrs. Penniman had been conscious of a certain vagueness in her
errand, and of not being able to offer him any very tangible reward
for his long walk. "I thought perhaps you would like to see one who
is so near to Catherine," she observed, with considerable majesty.
"And also," she added, "that you would value an opportunity of
sending her something."
Morris extended his empty hands with a melancholy smile. "I am
greatly obliged to you, but I have nothing to send."
"Haven't you a WORD?" asked his companion, with her suggestive smile
Morris frowned again. "Tell her to hold fast," he said rather
"That is a good word--a noble word. It will make her happy for many
days. She is very touching, very brave," Mrs. Penniman went on,
arranging her mantle and preparing to depart. While she was so
engaged she had an inspiration. She found the phrase that she could
boldly offer as a vindication of the step she had taken. "If you
marry Catherine at all risks" she said, "you will give my brother a
proof of your being what he pretends to doubt."
"What he pretends to doubt?"
"Don't you know what that is?" Mrs. Penniman asked almost playfully.
"It does not concern me to know," said Morris grandly.
"Of course it makes you angry."
"I despise it," Morris declared.
"Ah, you know what it is, then?" said Mrs. Penniman, shaking her
finger at him. "He pretends that you like--you like the money."
Morris hesitated a moment; and then, as if he spoke advisedly--"I DO
like the money!"
"Ah, but not--but not as he means it. You don't like it more than
He leaned his elbows on the table and buried his head in his hands.
"You torture me!" he murmured. And, indeed, this was almost the
effect of the poor lady's too importunate interest in his situation.
But she insisted on making her point. "If you marry her in spite of
him, he will take for granted that you expect nothing of him, and are
prepared to do without it. And so he will see that you are
Morris raised his head a little, following this argument, "And what
shall I gain by that?"
"Why, that he will see that he has been wrong in thinking that you
wished to get his money."
"And seeing that I wish he would go to the deuce with it, he will
leave it to a hospital. Is that what you mean?" asked Morris.
"No, I don't mean that; though that would be very grand!" Mrs.
Penniman quickly added. "I mean that having done you such an
injustice, he will think it his duty, at the end, to make some
Morris shook his head, though it must be confessed he was a little
struck with this idea. "Do you think he is so sentimental?"
"He is not sentimental," said Mrs. Penniman; "but, to be perfectly
fair to him, I think he has, in his own narrow way, a certain sense
There passed through Morris Townsend's mind a rapid wonder as to what
he might, even under a remote contingency, be indebted to from the
action of this principle in Dr. Sloper's breast, and the inquiry
exhausted itself in his sense of the ludicrous. "Your brother has no
duties to me," he said presently, "and I none to him."
"Ah, but he has duties to Catherine."
"Yes, but you see that on that principle Catherine has duties to him
Mrs. Penniman got up, with a melancholy sigh, as if she thought him
very unimaginative. "She has always performed them faithfully; and
now, do you think she has no duties to YOU?" Mrs. Penniman always,
even in conversation, italicised her personal pronouns.
"It would sound harsh to say so! I am so grateful for her love,"
"I will tell her you said that! And now, remember that if you need
me, I am there." And Mrs. Penniman, who could think of nothing more
to say, nodded vaguely in the direction of Washington Square.
Morris looked some moments at the sanded floor of the shop; he seemed
to be disposed to linger a moment. At last, looking up with a
certain abruptness, "It is your belief that if she marries me he will
cut her off?" he asked.
Mrs. Penniman stared a little, and smiled. "Why, I have explained to
you what I think would happen--that in the end it would be the best
thing to do."
"You mean that, whatever she does, in the long run she will get the
"It doesn't depend upon her, but upon you. Venture to appear as
disinterested as you are!" said Mrs. Penniman ingeniously. Morris
dropped his eyes on the sanded floor again, pondering this; and she
pursued. "Mr. Penniman and I had nothing, and we were very happy.
Catherine, moreover, has her mother's fortune, which, at the time my
sister-in-law married, was considered a very handsome one."
"Oh, don't speak of that!" said Morris; and, indeed, it was quite
superfluous, for he had contemplated the fact in all its lights.
"Austin married a wife with money--why shouldn't you?"
"Ah! but your brother was a doctor," Morris objected.
"Well, all young men can't be doctors!"
"I should think it an extremely loathsome profession," said Morris,
with an air of intellectual independence. Then in a moment, he went
on rather inconsequently, "Do you suppose there is a will already
made in Catherine's favour?"
"I suppose so--even doctors must die; and perhaps a little in mine,"
Mrs. Penniman frankly added.
"And you believe he would certainly change it--as regards Catherine?"
"Yes; and then change it back again."
"Ah, but one can't depend on that!" said Morris.
"Do you want to DEPEND on it?" Mrs. Penniman asked.
Morris blushed a little. "Well, I am certainly afraid of being the
cause of an injury to Catherine."
"Ah! you must not be afraid. Be afraid of nothing, and everything
will go well!"
And then Mrs. Penniman paid for her cup of tea, and Morris paid for
his oyster stew, and they went out together into the dimly-lighted
wilderness of the Seventh Avenue. The dusk had closed in completely
and the street lamps were separated by wide intervals of a pavement
in which cavities and fissures played a disproportionate part. An
omnibus, emblazoned with strange pictures, went tumbling over the
"How will you go home?" Morris asked, following this vehicle with an
interested eye. Mrs. Penniman had taken his arm.
She hesitated a moment. "I think this manner would be pleasant," she
said; and she continued to let him feel the value of his support.
So he walked with her through the devious ways of the west side of
the town, and through the bustle of gathering nightfall in populous
streets, to the quiet precinct of Washington Square. They lingered a
moment at the foot of Dr. Sloper's white marble steps, above which a
spotless white door, adorned with a glittering silver plate, seemed
to figure, for Morris, the closed portal of happiness; and then Mrs.
Penniman's companion rested a melancholy eye upon a lighted window in
the upper part of the house.
"That is my room--my dear little room!" Mrs. Penniman remarked.
Morris started. "Then I needn't come walking round the Square to
gaze at it."
"That's as you please. But Catherine's is behind; two noble windows
on the second floor. I think you can see them from the other
"I don't want to see them, ma'am!" And Morris turned his back to the
"I will tell her you have been HERE, at any rate," said Mrs.
Penniman, pointing to the spot where they stood; "and I will give her
your message--that she is to hold fast!"
"Oh, yes! of course. You know I write her all that."
"It seems to say more when it is spoken! And remember, if you need
me, that I am THERE"; and Mrs. Penniman glanced at the third floor.
On this they separated, and Morris, left to himself, stood looking at
the house a moment; after which he turned away, and took a gloomy
walk round the Square, on the opposite side, close to the wooden
fence. Then he came back, and paused for a minute in front of Dr.
Sloper's dwelling. His eyes travelled over it; they even rested on
the ruddy windows of Mrs. Penniman's apartment. He thought it a
devilish comfortable house.
Mrs. Penniman told Catherine that evening--the two ladies were
sitting in the back parlour--that she had had an interview with
Morris Townsend; and on receiving this news the girl started with a
sense of pain. She felt angry for the moment; it was almost the
first time she had ever felt angry. It seemed to her that her aunt
was meddlesome; and from this came a vague apprehension that she
would spoil something.
"I don't see why you should have seen him. I don't think it was
right," Catherine said.
"I was so sorry for him--it seemed to me some one ought to see him."
"No one but I," said Catherine, who felt as if she were making the
most presumptuous speech of her life, and yet at the same time had an
instinct that she was right in doing so.
"But you wouldn't, my dear," Aunt Lavinia rejoined; "and I didn't
know what might have become of him."
"I have not seen him, because my father has forbidden it," Catherine
said very simply.
There was a simplicity in this, indeed, which fairly vexed Mrs.
Penniman. "If your father forbade you to go to sleep, I suppose you
would keep awake!" she commented.
Catherine looked at her. "I don't understand you. You seem to be
"Well, my dear, you will understand me some day!" And Mrs. Penniman,
who was reading the evening paper, which she perused daily from the
first line to the last, resumed her occupation. She wrapped herself
in silence; she was determined Catherine should ask her for an
account of her interview with Morris. But Catherine was silent for
so long, that she almost lost patience; and she was on the point of
remarking to her that she was very heartless, when the girl at last
"What did he say?" she asked.
"He said he is ready to marry you any day, in spite of everything."
Catherine made no answer to this, and Mrs. Penniman almost lost
patience again; owing to which she at last volunteered the
information that Morris looked very handsome, but terribly haggard.
"Did he seem sad?" asked her niece.
"He was dark under the eyes," said Mrs. Penniman. "So different from
when I first saw him; though I am not sure that if I had seen him in
this condition the first time, I should not have been even more
struck with him. There is something brilliant in his very misery."
This was, to Catherine's sense, a vivid picture, and though she
disapproved, she felt herself gazing at it. "Where did you see him?"
she asked presently.
"In--in the Bowery; at a confectioner's," said Mrs. Penniman, who had
a general idea that she ought to dissemble a little.
"Whereabouts is the place?" Catherine inquired, after another pause.
"Do you wish to go there, my dear?" said her aunt.
"Oh no!" And Catherine got up from her seat and went to the fire,
where she stood looking a while at the glowing coals.
"Why are you so dry, Catherine?" Mrs. Penniman said at last.
"So cold--so irresponsive."
The girl turned very quickly. "Did HE say that?"
Mrs. Penniman hesitated a moment. "I will tell you what he said. He
said he feared only one thing--that you would be afraid."
"Afraid of what?"
"Afraid of your father."
Catherine turned back to the fire again, and then, after a pause, she
said--"I AM afraid of my father."
Mrs. Penniman got quickly up from her chair and approached her niece.
"Do you mean to give him up, then?"
Catherine for some time never moved; she kept her eyes on the coals.
At last she raised her head and looked at her aunt. "Why do you push
me so?" she asked.
"I don't push you. When have I spoken to you before?"
"It seems to me that you have spoken to me several times."
"I am afraid it is necessary, then, Catherine," said Mrs. Penniman,
with a good deal of solemnity. "I am afraid you don't feel the
importance--" She paused a little; Catherine was looking at her.
"The importance of not disappointing that gallant young heart!" And
Mrs. Penniman went back to her chair, by the lamp, and, with a little
jerk, picked up the evening paper again.
Catherine stood there before the fire, with her hands behind her,
looking at her aunt, to whom it seemed that the girl had never had
just this dark fixedness in her gaze. "I don't think you understand-
-or that you know me," she said.
"If I don't, it is not wonderful; you trust me so little."
Catherine made no attempt to deny this charge, and for some time more
nothing was said. But Mrs. Penniman's imagination was restless, and
the evening paper failed on this occasion to enchain it.
"If you succumb to the dread of your father's wrath," she said, "I
don't know what will become of us."
"Did HE tell you to say these things to me?"
"He told me to use my influence."
"You must be mistaken," said Catherine. "He trusts me."
"I hope he may never repent of it!" And Mrs. Penniman gave a little
sharp slap to her newspaper. She knew not what to make of her niece,
who had suddenly become stern and contradictious.
This tendency on Catherine's part was presently even more apparent.
"You had much better not make any more appointments with Mr.
Townsend," she said. "I don't think it is right."
Mrs. Penniman rose with considerable majesty. "My poor child, are
you jealous of me?" she inquired.
"Oh, Aunt Lavinia!" murmured Catherine, blushing.
"I don't think it is your place to teach me what is right."
On this point Catherine made no concession. "It can't be right to
"I certainly have not deceived YOU!"
"Yes; but I promised my father--"
"I have no doubt you promised your father. But I have promised him
Catherine had to admit this, and she did so in silence. "I don't
believe Mr. Townsend himself likes it," she said at last.
"Doesn't like meeting me?"
"Not in secret."
"It was not in secret; the place was full of people."
"But it was a secret place--away off in the Bowery."
Mrs. Penniman flinched a little. "Gentlemen enjoy such things," she
remarked presently. "I know what gentlemen like."
"My father wouldn't like it, if he knew."
"Pray, do you propose to inform him?" Mrs. Penniman inquired.
"No, Aunt Lavinia. But please don't do it again."
"If I do it again, you will inform him: is that what you mean? I do
not share your dread of my brother; I have always known how to defend
my own position. But I shall certainly never again take any step on
your behalf; you are much too thankless. I knew you were not a
spontaneous nature, but I believed you were firm, and I told your
father that he would find you so. I am disappointed--but your father
will not be!" And with this, Mrs. Penniman offered her niece a brief
good-night, and withdrew to her own apartment.
Catherine sat alone by the parlour fire--sat there for more than an
hour, lost in her meditations. Her aunt seemed to her aggressive and
foolish, and to see it so clearly--to judge Mrs. Penniman so
positively--made her feel old and grave. She did not resent the
imputation of weakness; it made no impression on her, for she had not
the sense of weakness, and she was not hurt at not being appreciated.
She had an immense respect for her father, and she felt that to
displease him would be a misdemeanour analogous to an act of
profanity in a great temple; but her purpose had slowly ripened, and
she believed that her prayers had purified it of its violence. The
evening advanced, and the lamp burned dim without her noticing it;
her eyes were fixed upon her terrible plan. She knew her father was
in his study--that he had been there all the evening; from time to
time she expected to hear him move. She thought he would perhaps
come, as he sometimes came, into the parlour. At last the clock
struck eleven, and the house was wrapped in silence; the servants had
gone to bed. Catherine got up and went slowly to the door of the
library, where she waited a moment, motionless. Then she knocked,
and then she waited again. Her father had answered her, but she had
not the courage to turn the latch. What she had said to her aunt was
true enough--she was afraid of him; and in saying that she had no
sense of weakness she meant that she was not afraid of herself. She
heard him move within, and he came and opened the door for her.
"What is the matter?" asked the Doctor. "You are standing there like
She went into the room, but it was some time before she contrived to
say what she had come to say. Her father, who was in his dressing-
gown and slippers, had been busy at his writing-table, and after
looking at her for some moments, and waiting for her to speak, he
went and seated himself at his papers again. His back was turned to
her--she began to hear the scratching of his pen. She remained near
the door, with her heart thumping beneath her bodice; and she was
very glad that his back was turned, for it seemed to her that she
could more easily address herself to this portion of his person than
to his face. At last she began, watching it while she spoke.
"You told me that if I should have anything more to say about Mr.
Townsend you would be glad to listen to it."
"Exactly, my dear," said the Doctor, not turning round, but stopping
Catherine wished it would go on, but she herself continued. "I
thought I would tell you that I have not seen him again, but that I
should like to do so."
"To bid him good-bye?" asked the Doctor.
The girl hesitated a moment. "He is not going away."
The Doctor wheeled slowly round in his chair, with a smile that
seemed to accuse her of an epigram; but extremes meet, and Catherine
had not intended one. "It is not to bid him good-bye, then?" her
"No, father, not that; at least, not for ever. I have not seen him
again, but I should like to see him," Catherine repeated.
The Doctor slowly rubbed his under lip with the feather of his quill.
"Have you written to him?"
"Yes, four times."
"You have not dismissed him, then. Once would have done that."
"No," said Catherine; "I have asked him--asked him to wait."
Her father sat looking at her, and she was afraid he was going to
break out into wrath; his eyes were so fine and cold.
"You are a dear, faithful child," he said at last. "Come here to
your father." And he got up, holding out his hands toward her.
The words were a surprise, and they gave her an exquisite joy. She
went to him, and he put his arm round her tenderly, soothingly; and
then he kissed her. After this he said:
"Do you wish to make me very happy?"
"I should like to--but I am afraid I can't," Catherine answered.
"You can if you will. It all depends on your will."
"Is it to give him up?" said Catherine.
"Yes, it is to give him up."
And he held her still, with the same tenderness, looking into her
face and resting his eyes on her averted eyes. There was a long
silence; she wished he would release her.
"You are happier than I, father," she said, at last.
"I have no doubt you are unhappy just now. But it is better to be
unhappy for three months and get over it, than for many years and
never get over it."
"Yes, if that were so," said Catherine.
"It would be so; I am sure of that." She answered nothing, and he
went on. "Have you no faith in my wisdom, in my tenderness, in my
solicitude for your future?"
"Oh, father!" murmured the girl.
"Don't you suppose that I know something of men: their vices, their
follies, their falsities?"
She detached herself, and turned upon him. "He is not vicious--he is
Her father kept looking at her with his sharp, pure eye. "You make
nothing of my judgement, then?"
"I can't believe that!"
"I don't ask you to believe it, but to take it on trust."
Catherine was far from saying to herself that this was an ingenious
sophism; but she met the appeal none the less squarely. "What has he
done--what do you know?"
"He has never done anything--he is a selfish idler."
"Oh, father, don't abuse him!" she exclaimed pleadingly.
"I don't mean to abuse him; it would be a great mistake. You may do
as you choose," he added, turning away.
"I may see him again?"
"Just as you choose."
"Will you forgive me?"
"By no means."
"It will only be for once."
"I don't know what you mean by once. You must either give him up or
continue the acquaintance."
"I wish to explain--to tell him to wait."
"To wait for what?"
"Till you know him better--till you consent."
"Don't tell him any such nonsense as that. I know him well enough,
and I shall never consent."
"But we can wait a long time," said poor Catherine, in a tone which
was meant to express the humblest conciliation, but which had upon
her father's nerves the effect of an iteration not characterised by
The Doctor answered, however, quietly enough: "Of course you can
wait till I die, if you like." Catherine gave a cry of natural
"Your engagement will have one delightful effect upon you; it will
make you extremely impatient for that event."
Catherine stood staring, and the Doctor enjoyed the point he had
made. It came to Catherine with the force--or rather with the vague
impressiveness--of a logical axiom which it was not in her province
to controvert; and yet, though it was a scientific truth, she felt
wholly unable to accept it.
"I would rather not marry, if that were true," she said.
"Give me a proof of it, then; for it is beyond a question that by
engaging yourself to Morris Townsend you simply wait for my death."
She turned away, feeling sick and faint; and the Doctor went on.
"And if you wait for it with impatience, judge, if you please, what
HIS eagerness will be!"
Catherine turned it over--her father's words had such an authority
for her that her very thoughts were capable of obeying him. There
was a dreadful ugliness in it, which seemed to glare at her through
the interposing medium of her own feebler reason. Suddenly, however,
she had an inspiration--she almost knew it to be an inspiration.
"If I don't marry before your death, I will not after," she said.
To her father, it must be admitted, this seemed only another epigram;
and as obstinacy, in unaccomplished minds, does not usually select
such a mode of expression, he was the more surprised at this wanton
play of a fixed idea.
"Do you mean that for an impertinence?" he inquired; an inquiry of
which, as he made it, he quite perceived the grossness.
"An impertinence? Oh, father, what terrible things you say!"
"If you don't wait for my death, you might as well marry immediately;
there is nothing else to wait for."
For some time Catherine made no answer; but finally she said:
"I think Morris--little by little--might persuade you."
"I shall never let him speak to me again. I dislike him too much."
Catherine gave a long, low sigh; she tried to stifle it, for she had
made up her mind that it was wrong to make a parade of her trouble,
and to endeavour to act upon her father by the meretricious aid of
emotion. Indeed, she even thought it wrong--in the sense of being
inconsiderate--to attempt to act upon his feelings at all; her part
was to effect some gentle, gradual change in his intellectual
perception of poor Morris's character. But the means of effecting
such a change were at present shrouded in mystery, and she felt
miserably helpless and hopeless. She had exhausted all arguments,
all replies. Her father might have pitied her, and in fact he did
so; but he was sure he was right.
"There is one thing you can tell Mr. Townsend when you see him
again," he said: "that if you marry without my consent, I don't
leave you a farthing of money. That will interest him more than
anything else you can tell him."
"That would be very right," Catherine answered. "I ought not in that
case to have a farthing of your money."
"My dear child," the Doctor observed, laughing, "your simplicity is
touching. Make that remark, in that tone, and with that expression
of countenance, to Mr. Townsend, and take a note of his answer. It
won't be polite--it will, express irritation; and I shall be glad of
that, as it will put me in the right; unless, indeed--which is
perfectly possible--you should like him the better for being rude to
"He will never be rude to me," said Catherine gently.
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