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Chapter 16

  • They had of course immediately spoken of Catherine. "Did she send me _essage, or—or anything?" Morris asked. He appeared to think that she migh_ave sent him a trinket or a lock of her hair.
  • Mrs. Penniman was slightly embarrassed, for she had not told her niece of he_ntended expedition. "Not exactly a message," she said; "I didn't ask her fo_ne, because I was afraid to—to excite her."
  • "I am afraid she is not very excitable!" And Morris gave a smile of som_itterness.
  • "She is better than that. She is steadfast—she is true!"
  • "Do you think she will hold fast, then?"
  • "To the death!"
  • "Oh, I hope it won't come to that," said Morris.
  • "We must be prepared for the worst, and that is what I wish to speak to yo_bout."
  • "What do you call the worst?"
  • "Well," said Mrs. Penniman, "my brother's hard, intellectual nature."
  • "Oh, the devil!"
  • "He is impervious to pity," Mrs. Penniman added, by way of explanation.
  • "Do you mean that he won't come round?"
  • "He will never be vanquished by argument. I have studied him. He will b_anquished only by the accomplished fact."
  • "The accomplished fact?"
  • "He will come round afterwards," said Mrs. Penniman, with extrem_ignificance. "He cares for nothing but facts; he must be met by facts!"
  • "Well," rejoined Morris, "it is a fact that I wish to marry his daughter. _et him with that the other day, but he was not at all vanquished."
  • Mrs. Penniman was silent a little, and her smile beneath the shadow of he_apacious bonnet, on the edge of which her black veil was arranged curtain- wise, fixed itself upon Morris's face with a still more tender brilliancy.
  • "Marry Catherine first and meet him afterwards!" she exclaimed.
  • "Do you recommend that?" asked the young man, frowning heavily.
  • She was a little frightened, but she went on with considerable boldness. "Tha_s the way I see it: a private marriage—a private marriage." She repeated th_hrase because she liked it.
  • "Do you mean that I should carry Catherine off? What do they call it—elop_ith her?"
  • "It is not a crime when you are driven to it," said Mrs. Penniman. "M_usband, as I have told you, was a distinguished clergyman; one of the mos_loquent men of his day. He once married a young couple that had fled from th_ouse of the young lady's father. He was so interested in their story. He ha_o hesitation, and everything came out beautifully. The father was afterward_econciled, and thought everything of the young man. Mr. Penniman married the_n the evening, about seven o'clock. The church was so dark, you coul_carcely see; and Mr. Penniman was intensely agitated; he was so sympathetic.
  • I don't believe he could have done it again."
  • "Unfortunately Catherine and I have not Mr. Penniman to marry us," sai_orris.
  • "No, but you have me!" rejoined Mrs. Penniman expressively. "I can't perfor_he ceremony, but I can help you. I can watch."
  • "The woman's an idiot," thought Morris; but he was obliged to say somethin_ifferent. It was not, however, materially more civil. "Was it in order t_ell me this that you requested I would meet you here?"
  • Mrs. Penniman had been conscious of a certain vagueness in her errand, and o_ot being able to offer him any very tangible reward for his long walk. "_hought perhaps you would like to see one who is so near to Catherine," sh_bserved, with considerable majesty. "And also," she added, "that you woul_alue an opportunity of sending her something."
  • Morris extended his empty hands with a melancholy smile. "I am greatly oblige_o you, but I have nothing to send."
  • "Haven't you a WORD?" asked his companion, with her suggestive smile comin_ack.
  • Morris frowned again. "Tell her to hold fast," he said rather curtly.
  • "That is a good word—a noble word. It will make her happy for many days. Sh_s very touching, very brave," Mrs. Penniman went on, arranging her mantle an_reparing to depart. While she was so engaged she had an inspiration. Sh_ound the phrase that she could boldly offer as a vindication of the step sh_ad taken. "If you marry Catherine at all risks" she said, "you will give m_rother a proof of your being what he pretends to doubt."
  • "What he pretends to doubt?"
  • "Don't you know what that is?" Mrs. Penniman asked almost playfully.
  • "It does not concern me to know," said Morris grandly.
  • "Of course it makes you angry."
  • "I despise it," Morris declared.
  • "Ah, you know what it is, then?" said Mrs. Penniman, shaking her finger a_im. "He pretends that you like—you like the money."
  • Morris hesitated a moment; and then, as if he spoke advisedly—"I DO like th_oney!"
  • "Ah, but not—but not as he means it. You don't like it more than Catherine?"
  • He leaned his elbows on the table and buried his head in his hands. "Yo_orture me!" he murmured. And, indeed, this was almost the effect of the poo_ady's too importunate interest in his situation.
  • But she insisted on making her point. "If you marry her in spite of him, h_ill take for granted that you expect nothing of him, and are prepared to d_ithout it. And so he will see that you are disinterested."
  • Morris raised his head a little, following this argument, "And what shall _ain by that?"
  • "Why, that he will see that he has been wrong in thinking that you wished t_et his money."
  • "And seeing that I wish he would go to the deuce with it, he will leave it t_ hospital. Is that what you mean?" asked Morris.
  • "No, I don't mean that; though that would be very grand!" Mrs. Pennima_uickly added. "I mean that having done you such an injustice, he will thin_t his duty, at the end, to make some amends."
  • Morris shook his head, though it must be confessed he was a little struck wit_his idea. "Do you think he is so sentimental?"
  • "He is not sentimental," said Mrs. Penniman; "but, to be perfectly fair t_im, I think he has, in his own narrow way, a certain sense of duty."
  • There passed through Morris Townsend's mind a rapid wonder as to what h_ight, even under a remote contingency, be indebted to from the action of thi_rinciple in Dr. Sloper's breast, and the inquiry exhausted itself in hi_ense of the ludicrous. "Your brother has no duties to me," he said presently,
  • "and I none to him."
  • "Ah, but he has duties to Catherine."
  • "Yes, but you see that on that principle Catherine has duties to him as well."
  • Mrs. Penniman got up, with a melancholy sigh, as if she thought him ver_nimaginative. "She has always performed them faithfully; and now, do yo_hink she has no duties to YOU?" Mrs. Penniman always, even in conversation, italicised her personal pronouns.
  • "It would sound harsh to say so! I am so grateful for her love," Morris added.
  • "I will tell her you said that! And now, remember that if you need me, I a_here." And Mrs. Penniman, who could think of nothing more to say, nodde_aguely in the direction of Washington Square.
  • Morris looked some moments at the sanded floor of the shop; he seemed to b_isposed to linger a moment. At last, looking up with a certain abruptness,
  • "It is your belief that if she marries me he will cut her off?" he asked.
  • Mrs. Penniman stared a little, and smiled. "Why, I have explained to you wha_ think would happen—that in the end it would be the best thing to do."
  • "You mean that, whatever she does, in the long run she will get the money?"
  • "It doesn't depend upon her, but upon you. Venture to appear as disintereste_s you are!" said Mrs. Penniman ingeniously. Morris dropped his eyes on th_anded floor again, pondering this; and she pursued. "Mr. Penniman and I ha_othing, and we were very happy. Catherine, moreover, has her mother'_ortune, which, at the time my sister-in-law married, was considered a ver_andsome one."
  • "Oh, don't speak of that!" said Morris; and, indeed, it was quite superfluous, for he had contemplated the fact in all its lights.
  • "Austin married a wife with money—why shouldn't you?"
  • "Ah! but your brother was a doctor," Morris objected.
  • "Well, all young men can't be doctors!"
  • "I should think it an extremely loathsome profession," said Morris, with a_ir of intellectual independence. Then in a moment, he went on rathe_nconsequently, "Do you suppose there is a will already made in Catherine'_avour?"
  • "I suppose so—even doctors must die; and perhaps a little in mine," Mrs.
  • Penniman frankly added.
  • "And you believe he would certainly change it—as regards Catherine?"
  • "Yes; and then change it back again."
  • "Ah, but one can't depend on that!" said Morris.
  • "Do you want to DEPEND on it?" Mrs. Penniman asked.
  • Morris blushed a little. "Well, I am certainly afraid of being the cause of a_njury to Catherine."
  • "Ah! you must not be afraid. Be afraid of nothing, and everything will g_ell!"
  • And then Mrs. Penniman paid for her cup of tea, and Morris paid for his oyste_tew, and they went out together into the dimly-lighted wilderness of th_eventh Avenue. The dusk had closed in completely and the street lamps wer_eparated by wide intervals of a pavement in which cavities and fissure_layed a disproportionate part. An omnibus, emblazoned with strange pictures, went tumbling over the dislocated cobble-stones.
  • "How will you go home?" Morris asked, following this vehicle with a_nterested eye. Mrs. Penniman had taken his arm.
  • She hesitated a moment. "I think this manner would be pleasant," she said; an_he continued to let him feel the value of his support.
  • So he walked with her through the devious ways of the west side of the town, and through the bustle of gathering nightfall in populous streets, to th_uiet precinct of Washington Square. They lingered a moment at the foot of Dr.
  • Sloper's white marble steps, above which a spotless white door, adorned with _littering silver plate, seemed to figure, for Morris, the closed portal o_appiness; and then Mrs. Penniman's companion rested a melancholy eye upon _ighted window in the upper part of the house.
  • "That is my room—my dear little room!" Mrs. Penniman remarked.
  • Morris started. "Then I needn't come walking round the Square to gaze at it."
  • "That's as you please. But Catherine's is behind; two noble windows on th_econd floor. I think you can see them from the other street."
  • "I don't want to see them, ma'am!" And Morris turned his back to the house.
  • "I will tell her you have been HERE, at any rate," said Mrs. Penniman, pointing to the spot where they stood; "and I will give her your message—tha_he is to hold fast!"
  • "Oh, yes! of course. You know I write her all that."
  • "It seems to say more when it is spoken! And remember, if you need me, that _m THERE"; and Mrs. Penniman glanced at the third floor.
  • On this they separated, and Morris, left to himself, stood looking at th_ouse a moment; after which he turned away, and took a gloomy walk round th_quare, on the opposite side, close to the wooden fence. Then he came back, and paused for a minute in front of Dr. Sloper's dwelling. His eyes travelle_ver it; they even rested on the ruddy windows of Mrs. Penniman's apartment.
  • He thought it a devilish comfortable house.