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Chapter 17

  • Mrs. Penniman told Catherine that evening—the two ladies were sitting in th_ack parlour—that she had had an interview with Morris Townsend; and o_eceiving this news the girl started with a sense of pain. She felt angry fo_he moment; it was almost the first time she had ever felt angry. It seemed t_er that her aunt was meddlesome; and from this came a vague apprehension tha_he would spoil something.
  • "I don't see why you should have seen him. I don't think it was right,"
  • Catherine said.
  • "I was so sorry for him—it seemed to me some one ought to see him."
  • "No one but I," said Catherine, who felt as if she were making the mos_resumptuous speech of her life, and yet at the same time had an instinct tha_he was right in doing so.
  • "But you wouldn't, my dear," Aunt Lavinia rejoined; "and I didn't know wha_ight have become of him."
  • "I have not seen him, because my father has forbidden it," Catherine said ver_imply.
  • There was a simplicity in this, indeed, which fairly vexed Mrs. Penniman. "I_our father forbade you to go to sleep, I suppose you would keep awake!" sh_ommented.
  • Catherine looked at her. "I don't understand you. You seem to be ver_trange."
  • "Well, my dear, you will understand me some day!" And Mrs. Penniman, who wa_eading the evening paper, which she perused daily from the first line to th_ast, resumed her occupation. She wrapped herself in silence; she wa_etermined Catherine should ask her for an account of her interview wit_orris. But Catherine was silent for so long, that she almost lost patience; and she was on the point of remarking to her that she was very heartless, whe_he girl at last spoke.
  • "What did he say?" she asked.
  • "He said he is ready to marry you any day, in spite of everything."
  • Catherine made no answer to this, and Mrs. Penniman almost lost patienc_gain; owing to which she at last volunteered the information that Morri_ooked very handsome, but terribly haggard.
  • "Did he seem sad?" asked her niece.
  • "He was dark under the eyes," said Mrs. Penniman. "So different from when _irst saw him; though I am not sure that if I had seen him in this conditio_he first time, I should not have been even more struck with him. There i_omething brilliant in his very misery."
  • This was, to Catherine's sense, a vivid picture, and though she disapproved, she felt herself gazing at it. "Where did you see him?" she asked presently.
  • "In—in the Bowery; at a confectioner's," said Mrs. Penniman, who had a genera_dea that she ought to dissemble a little.
  • "Whereabouts is the place?" Catherine inquired, after another pause.
  • "Do you wish to go there, my dear?" said her aunt.
  • "Oh no!" And Catherine got up from her seat and went to the fire, where sh_tood looking a while at the glowing coals.
  • "Why are you so dry, Catherine?" Mrs. Penniman said at last.
  • "So dry?"
  • "So cold—so irresponsive."
  • The girl turned very quickly. "Did HE say that?"
  • Mrs. Penniman hesitated a moment. "I will tell you what he said. He said h_eared only one thing—that you would be afraid."
  • "Afraid of what?"
  • "Afraid of your father."
  • Catherine turned back to the fire again, and then, after a pause, she said—"_M afraid of my father."
  • Mrs. Penniman got quickly up from her chair and approached her niece. "Do yo_ean to give him up, then?"
  • Catherine for some time never moved; she kept her eyes on the coals. At las_he raised her head and looked at her aunt. "Why do you push me so?" sh_sked.
  • "I don't push you. When have I spoken to you before?"
  • "It seems to me that you have spoken to me several times."
  • "I am afraid it is necessary, then, Catherine," said Mrs. Penniman, with _ood deal of solemnity. "I am afraid you don't feel the importance—" Sh_aused a little; Catherine was looking at her. "The importance of no_isappointing that gallant young heart!" And Mrs. Penniman went back to he_hair, by the lamp, and, with a little jerk, picked up the evening pape_gain.
  • Catherine stood there before the fire, with her hands behind her, looking a_er aunt, to whom it seemed that the girl had never had just this dar_ixedness in her gaze. "I don't think you understand- -or that you know me,"
  • she said.
  • "If I don't, it is not wonderful; you trust me so little."
  • Catherine made no attempt to deny this charge, and for some time more nothin_as said. But Mrs. Penniman's imagination was restless, and the evening pape_ailed on this occasion to enchain it.
  • "If you succumb to the dread of your father's wrath," she said, "I don't kno_hat will become of us."
  • "Did HE tell you to say these things to me?"
  • "He told me to use my influence."
  • "You must be mistaken," said Catherine. "He trusts me."
  • "I hope he may never repent of it!" And Mrs. Penniman gave a little sharp sla_o her newspaper. She knew not what to make of her niece, who had suddenl_ecome stern and contradictious.
  • This tendency on Catherine's part was presently even more apparent. "You ha_uch better not make any more appointments with Mr. Townsend," she said. "_on't think it is right."
  • Mrs. Penniman rose with considerable majesty. "My poor child, are you jealou_f me?" she inquired.
  • "Oh, Aunt Lavinia!" murmured Catherine, blushing.
  • "I don't think it is your place to teach me what is right."
  • On this point Catherine made no concession. "It can't be right to deceive."
  • "I certainly have not deceived YOU!"
  • "Yes; but I promised my father—"
  • "I have no doubt you promised your father. But I have promised him nothing!"
  • Catherine had to admit this, and she did so in silence. "I don't believe Mr.
  • Townsend himself likes it," she said at last.
  • "Doesn't like meeting me?"
  • "Not in secret."
  • "It was not in secret; the place was full of people."
  • "But it was a secret place—away off in the Bowery."
  • Mrs. Penniman flinched a little. "Gentlemen enjoy such things," she remarke_resently. "I know what gentlemen like."
  • "My father wouldn't like it, if he knew."
  • "Pray, do you propose to inform him?" Mrs. Penniman inquired.
  • "No, Aunt Lavinia. But please don't do it again."
  • "If I do it again, you will inform him: is that what you mean? I do not shar_our dread of my brother; I have always known how to defend my own position.
  • But I shall certainly never again take any step on your behalf; you are muc_oo thankless. I knew you were not a spontaneous nature, but I believed yo_ere firm, and I told your father that he would find you so. I a_isappointed—but your father will not be!" And with this, Mrs. Pennima_ffered her niece a brief good-night, and withdrew to her own apartment.