Chapter 31

Washington Square - Chapter 31

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. Doctor 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 Penniman's part.

'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 wanted 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 knew nothing about it.'

'Do you think he will ask me, when he sees - when he sees - ?' But here Catherine stopped.

'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 aunt.

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

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