Her refreshed attention to this gentleman had not those limits of which Catherine desired, for herself, to be conscious; it lasted long enough to enable her to wait another week before speaking of him again. It was under the same circumstances that she once more attacked the subject. She had been sitting with her niece in the evening; only on this occasion, as the night was not so warm, the lamp had been lighted, and Catherine had placed herself near it with a morsel of fancy-work. Mrs Penniman went and sat alone for half an hour on the balcony; then she came in, moving vaguely about the room. At last she sunk into a seat near Catherine, with clasped hands, and a little look of excitement.
'Shall you be angry if I speak to you again about him?' she asked. Catherine looked up at her quietly. 'Who is he?'
'He whom you once loved.'
'I shall not be angry, but I shall not like it.'
'He sent you a message,' said Mrs Penniman. 'I promised him to deliver it, and I must keep my promise.'
In all these years Catherine had had time to forget how little she had to thank her aunt for in the season of her misery; she had long ago forgiven Mrs Penniman of taking too much upon herself. But for a moment this attitude of interposition and disinterestedness, this carrying of messages and redeeming of promises, brought back the sense that her companion was a dangerous woman. She had said she would not be angry; but for an instant she felt sore.' I don't care what you do with your promise!' she answered.
Mrs Penniman, however, with her high conception of the sanctity of pledges, carried her point.' I have gone too far to retreat,' she said, though precisely what this meant she was not at pains to explain. 'Mr Townsend wishes most particularly to see you, Catherine; he believes that if you knew how much, and why, he wishes it, you would consent to do so.'
'There can be no reason,' said Catherine; 'no good reason.'
'His happiness depends upon it. Is not that a good reason?' asked Mrs Penniman, impressively.
'Not for me. My happiness does not.'
'I think you will be happier after you have seen him. He is going away again - going to resume his wanderings. It is a very lonely, restless, joyless life. Before he goes he wishes to speak to you; it is a fixed idea with him - he is always thinking of it. He has something very important to say to you. He believes that you never under - stood him - that you never judged him rightly, and the belief has always weighed upon him terribly. He wishes to justify himself; he believes that in a very few words he could do so. He wishes to meet you as a friend.'
Catherine listened to this wonderful speech without pausing in her work; she had now had several days to accustom herself to think of Morris Townsend again as an actuality. When it was over she said simply,' Please say to Mr Townsend that I wish he would leave me alone.'
She had hardly spoken when a sharp, firm ring at the door vibrated through the summer night. Catherine looked up at the clock; it marked a quarter past nine - a very late hour for visitors, especially in the empty condition of the town. Mrs Penniman at the same moment gave a little start, and then Catherine's eyes turned quickly to her aunt. They met Mrs Penniman's, and sounded them for a moment sharply. Mrs Penniman was blushing; her look was a conscious one; it seemed to confess something. Catherine guessed its meaning and rose quickly from her chair.
'Aunt Penniman,' she said, in a tone that scared her companion, 'have you taken the liberty...?'
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