It was for reasons connected with this determination that on the morrow he sought a few words of private conversation with Mrs Penniman. He sent for her to the library, and he there informed her that he hoped very much that, as regarded this affair of Catherine's, she would mind her p's and q's.
'I don't know what you mean by such an expression,' said his sister. 'You speak as if I were learning the alphabet.'
'The alphabet of common-sense is something you will never learn,' the Doctor permitted himself to respond.
'Have you called me here to insult me?' Mrs Penniman inquired.
'Not at all. Simply to advise you. You have taken up young Townsend; that's your own affair. I have nothing to do with your sentiments, your fancies, your affections, your delusions; but what I request of you is that you will keep these things to yourself. I have explained my views to Catherine; she understands them perfectly, and anything that she does further in the way of encouraging Mr Townsend's attentions will be in deliberate opposition to my wishes. Anything that you should do in the way of giving her aid and comfort will be - permit me the expression - distinctly treasonable. You know high-treason is a capital offence: take care how you incur the penalty.'
Mrs Penniman threw back her head, with a certain expansion of the eye which she occasionally practiced. 'It seems to me that you talk like a great autocrat.'
'I talk like my daughter's father.'
'Not like your sister's brother,' cried Lavinia.
'My dear Lavinia,' said the Doctor, 'I sometimes wonder whether I am your brother, we are so extremely different. In spite of differences, however, we can, at a pinch, understand each other; and that is the essential thing just now. Walk straight with regard to Mr Townsend; that's all I ask. It is highly probable you have been corresponding with him for the last three weeks - perhaps even seeing him. I don't ask you - you needn't tell me.' He had a moral conviction that she would contrive to tell a fib about the matter, which it would disgust him to listen to. 'Whatever you have done, stop doing it; that's all I wish.'
'Don't you wish also by chance to murder your child?' Mrs Penniman inquired.
'On the contrary, I wish to make her live and be happy.'
'You will kill her: she passed a dreadful night.'
'She won't die of one dreadful night, nor of a dozen. Remember that I am a distinguished physician.'
Mrs Penniman hesitated a moment; then she risked her retort. 'Your being a distinguished physician has not prevented you from already losing two members of your family.'
She had risked it, but her brother gave her such a terribly incisive look - a look so like a surgeon's lancet - that she was frightened at her courage. And he answered her, in words that corresponded to the look, 'It may not prevent me, either, from losing the society of still another.'
Mrs Penniman took herself off with whatever air of depreciated merit was at her command, and repaired to Catherine's room, where the poor girl was closeted. She knew all about her dreadful night, for the two had met again, the evening before, after Catherine left her father. Mrs Penniman was on the landing of the second floor when her niece came up-stairs; it was not remarkable that a person of so much subtlety should have discovered that Catherine had been shut up with the Doctor. It was still less remarkable that she should have felt an extreme curiosity to learn the result of this interview, and that this sentiment,
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