Little by little Doctor Sloper had retired from his profession; he visited only those patients in whose symptoms he recognized a certain originality. He went again to Europe, and remained two years; Catherine went with him, and on this occasion Mrs Penniman was of the party. Europe apparently had few surprises for Mrs Penniman, who frequently remarked, in the most romantic sites,' You know I am very familiar with all this.' It should be added that such remarks were usually not addressed to her brother, or yet to her niece, but to fellow-tourists who happened to be at hand, or even to the cicerone or the goatherd in the foreground.
One day, after his return from Europe, the Doctor said something to his daughter that made her start - it seemed to come from so far out of the past.
'I should like you to promise me something before I die.'
'Why do you talk about your dying?' she asked.
'Because I am sixty-eight years old.'
'I hope you will live a long time,' said Catherine.' I hope I shall! But some day I shall take a bad cold, and then it will not matter much what anyone hopes. That will be the manner of my exit, and when it takes place, remember I told you so. Promise me not to marry Morris Townsend after I am gone.'
This was what made Catherine start, as I have said; but her start was a silent one, and for some moments she said nothing. 'Why do you speak of him?' she asked at last.
'You challenge everything I say. I speak of him because he's a topic, like any other. He's to be seen, like anyone else, and he is still looking for a wife - having had one and got rid of her, I don't know by what means. He has lately been in New York, and at your cousin Marian's house; your aunt Elizabeth saw him there.'
'They neither of them told me,' said Catherine.
'That's their merit; it's not yours. He has grown fat and bald, and he has not made his fortune. But I can't trust those facts alone to steel your heart against him, and that's why I ask you to promise.'
'Fat and bald'; these words presented a strange image to Catherine's mind, out of which the memory of the most beautiful young man in the world had never faded. 'I don't think you understand,' she said. 'I very seldom think of Mr Townsend.'
'It will be very easy for you to go on, then. Promise me, after my death, to do the same.'
Again, for some moments, Catherine was silent; her father's request deeply amazed her; it opened an old wound, and made it ache afresh.' I don't think I can promise that,' she answered.
'It would be a great satisfaction,' said her father. 'You don't understand. I can't promise that.'
The Doctor was silent a minute. 'I ask you for a particular reason. I am altering my will.'
This reason failed to strike Catherine; and indeed she scarcely understood it. All her feelings were merged in the sense that he was trying to treat her as he had treated her years before. She had suffered from it then; and now all her experience, all her acquired tranquillity and rigidity protested. She had been so humble in her youth that she could now afford to have a little pride, and there was something in his request, and in her father's thinking himself so free to make it, that seemed an injury to her dignity. Poor Catherine's dignity was not aggressive; it never sat in state; but if you pushed far enough you could find it. Her father had pushed very far.
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