Chapter 9

Washington Square - Chapter 9

It was a regular custom with the family in Washington Square to go and spend Sunday evening at Mrs Almond's. On the Sunday after the conversation I have just narrated this custom was not intermitted; and on this occasion, toward the middle of the evening, Doctor Sloper found reason to withdraw to the library with his brother-in-law, to talk over a matter of business. He was absent some twenty minutes, and when he came back into the circle which was enlivened by the presence of several friends of the family, he saw that Morris Townsend had come in, and had lost as little time as possible in seating himself on a small sofa beside Catherine. In the large room, where several different groups had been formed, and the hum of voices and of laughter was loud, these two young persons might confabulate, as the Doctor phrased it to himself, without attracting attention. He saw in a moment, however, that his daughter was painfully conscious of his own observation. She sat motionless, with her eyes bent down, staring at her open fan, deeply flushed, shrinking together as if to minimize the indiscretion of which she confessed herself guilty.

The Doctor almost pitied her. Poor Catherine was not defiant; she had no genius for bravado, and as she felt that her father viewed her companion's attentions with an unsympathizing eye, there was nothing but discomfort for her in the accident of seeming to challenge him. The Doctor felt, indeed, so sorry for her that he turned away, to spare her the sense of being watched; and he was so intelligent a man that, in his thoughts, he rendered a sort of poetic justice to her situation.

'It must be deucedly pleasant. Or a plain, inanimate girl like that to have a beautiful young fellow come and sit down beside her, and whisper to her that he is her slave - if that is what this one whispers. No wonder she likes it, and that she thinks me a cruel tyrant; which of course she does, though she is afraid - she hasn't the animation necessary - to admit it to herself. 'Poor old Catherine!' mused the Doctor; 'I verily believe she is capable of defending me when Townsend abuses me!'

And the force of this reflection, for the moment, was such in making him feel the natural opposition between his point of view and that of an infatuated child, that he said to himself that he was perhaps after all taking things too hard, and crying out before he was hurt. He must not condemn Morris Townsend unheard. He had a great aversion to taking things too hard; he thought that half the discomfort and many of the disappointments of life come from it; and for an instant he asked himself whether, possibly, he did not appear ridiculous to this intelligent young man, whose private perception of incongruities he suspected of being keen. At the end of a quarter of an hour Catherine had got rid of him, and Townsend was now standing before the fireplace in conversation with Mrs Almond.

'We will try him again,' said the Doctor. And he crossed the room and joined his sister and her companion, making her a sign that she should leave the young man to him. She presently did so, while Morris looked at him, smiling, without a sign of evasiveness in his affable eye.

'He's amazingly conceited!' thought the Doctor; and then he said, aloud, 'I am told you are looking out for a position.'

'Oh, a position is more than I should presume to call it,' Morris Townsend answered. 'That sounds so fine. I should like some quiet work - something to turn an honest penny.'

'What sort of thing should you prefer?' 'Do you mean what am I fit for? Very little, I am afraid. I have nothing but my good right arm, as they say in the melodramas.'

'You are too modest,' said the Doctor. 'In addition to your good right arm you have your subtle brain. I know nothing of you but what I see; but I see by your physiognomy that you are extremely intelligent.'

'Ah,' Townsend murmured, 'I don't know what to answer when you say that. You advise me, then, not to despair?'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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