On the morrow, in the afternoon, she heard his voice at the door, and his ste_n the hall. She received him in the big, bright front parlour, and sh_nstructed the servant that if any one should call she was particularl_ngaged. She was not afraid of her father's coming in, for at that hour he wa_lways driving about town. When Morris stood there before her, the first thin_hat she was conscious of was that he was even more beautiful to look at tha_ond recollection had painted him; the next was that he had pressed her in hi_rms. When she was free again it appeared to her that she had now indee_hrown herself into the gulf of defiance, and even, for an instant, that sh_ad been married to him.
He told her that she had been very cruel, and had made him very unhappy; an_atherine felt acutely the difficulty of her destiny, which forced her to giv_ain in such opposite quarters. But she wished that, instead of reproaches, however tender, he would give her help; he was certainly wise enough, an_lever enough, to invent some issue from their troubles. She expressed thi_elief, and Morris received the assurance as if he thought it natural; but h_nterrogated, at first—as was natural too—rather than committed himself t_arking out a course.
"You should not have made me wait so long," he said. "I don't know how I hav_een living; every hour seemed like years. You should have decided sooner."
"Decided?" Catherine asked.
"Decided whether you would keep me or give me up."
"Oh, Morris," she cried, with a long tender murmur, "I never thought of givin_ou up!"
"What, then, were you waiting for?" The young man was ardently logical.
"I thought my father might—might—" and she hesitated.
"Might see how unhappy you were?"
"Oh no! But that he might look at it differently."
"And now you have sent for me to tell me that at last he does so. Is that it?"
This hypothetical optimism gave the poor girl a pang. "No, Morris," she sai_olemnly, "he looks at it still in the same way."
"Then why have you sent for me?"
"Because I wanted to see you!" cried Catherine piteously.
"That's an excellent reason, surely. But did you want to look at me only? Hav_ou nothing to tell me?"
His beautiful persuasive eyes were fixed upon her face, and she wondered wha_nswer would be noble enough to make to such a gaze as that. For a moment he_wn eyes took it in, and then—"I DID want to look at you!" she said gently.
But after this speech, most inconsistently, she hid her face.
Morris watched her for a moment, attentively. "Will you marry me to- morrow?"
he asked suddenly.
"Next week, then. Any time within a month."
"Isn't it better to wait?" said Catherine.
"To wait for what?"
She hardly knew for what; but this tremendous leap alarmed her. "Till we hav_hought about it a little more."
He shook his head, sadly and reproachfully. "I thought you had been thinkin_bout it these three weeks. Do you want to turn it over in your mind for fiv_ears? You have given me more than time enough. My poor girl," he added in _oment, "you are not sincere!"
Catherine coloured from brow to chin, and her eyes filled with tears. "Oh, ho_an you say that?" she murmured.
"Why, you must take me or leave me," said Morris, very reasonably. "You can'_lease your father and me both; you must choose between us."
"I have chosen you!" she said passionately.
"Then marry me next week."
She stood gazing at him. "Isn't there any other way?"
"None that I know of for arriving at the same result. If there is, I should b_appy to hear of it."
Catherine could think of nothing of the kind, and Morris's luminosity seeme_lmost pitiless. The only thing she could think of was that her father might, after all, come round, and she articulated, with an awkward sense of he_elplessness in doing so, a wish that this miracle might happen.
"Do you think it is in the least degree likely?" Morris asked.
"It would be, if he could only know you!"
"He can know me if he will. What is to prevent it?"
"His ideas, his reasons," said Catherine. "They are so—so terribly strong."
She trembled with the recollection of them yet.
"Strong?" cried Morris. "I would rather you should think them weak."
"Oh, nothing about my father is weak!" said the girl.
Morris turned away, walking to the window, where he stood looking out. "Yo_re terribly afraid of him!" he remarked at last.
She felt no impulse to deny it, because she had no shame in it; for if it wa_o honour to herself, at least it was an honour to him. "I suppose I must be,"
she said simply.
"Then you don't love me—not as I love you. If you fear your father more tha_ou love me, then your love is not what I hoped it was."
"Ah, my friend!" she said, going to him.
"Do I fear anything?" he demanded, turning round on her. "For your sake wha_m I not ready to face?"
"You are noble—you are brave!" she answered, stopping short at a distance tha_as almost respectful.
"Small good it does me, if you are so timid."
"I don't think that I am—REALLY," said Catherine.
"I don't know what you mean by 'really.' It is really enough to make u_iserable."
"I should be strong enough to wait—to wait a long time."
"And suppose after a long time your father should hate me worse than ever?"
"He wouldn't—he couldn't!"
"He would be touched by my fidelity? Is that what you mean? If he is so easil_ouched, then why should you be afraid of him?"
This was much to the point, and Catherine was struck by it. "I will try not t_e," she said. And she stood there submissively, the image, in advance, of _utiful and responsible wife. This image could not fail to recommend itself t_orris Townsend, and he continued to give proof of the high estimation i_hich he held her. It could only have been at the prompting of such _entiment that he presently mentioned to her that the course recommended b_rs. Penniman was an immediate union, regardless of consequences.
"Yes, Aunt Penniman would like that," Catherine said simply—and yet with _ertain shrewdness. It must, however, have been in pure simplicity, and fro_otives quite untouched by sarcasm, that, a few moments after, she went on t_ay to Morris that her father had given her a message for him. It was quite o_er conscience to deliver this message, and had the mission been ten time_ore painful she would have as scrupulously performed it. "He told me to tel_ou—to tell you very distinctly, and directly from himself, that if I marr_ithout his consent, I shall not inherit a penny of his fortune. He made _reat point of this. He seemed to think—he seemed to think— "
Morris flushed, as any young man of spirit might have flushed at an imputatio_f baseness.
"What did he seem to think?"
"That it would make a difference."
"It WILL make a difference—in many things. We shall be by many thousands o_ollars the poorer; and that is a great difference. But it will make none i_y affection."
"We shall not want the money," said Catherine; "for you know I have a goo_eal myself."
"Yes, my dear girl, I know you have something. And he can't touch that!"
"He would never," said Catherine. "My mother left it to me."
Morris was silent a while. "He was very positive about this, was he?" he aske_t last. "He thought such a message would annoy me terribly, and make me thro_ff the mask, eh?"
"I don't know what he thought," said Catherine wearily.
"Please tell him that I care for his message as much as for that!" And Morri_napped his fingers sonorously.
"I don't think I could tell him that."
"Do you know you sometimes disappoint me?" said Morris.
"I should think I might. I disappoint every one—father and Aunt Penniman."
"Well, it doesn't matter with me, because I am fonder of you than they are."
"Yes, Morris," said the girl, with her imagination—what there was o_t—swimming in this happy truth, which seemed, after all, invidious to no one.
"Is it your belief that he will stick to it—stick to it for ever, to this ide_f disinheriting you?—that your goodness and patience will never wear out hi_ruelty?"
"The trouble is that if I marry you, he will think I am not good. He wil_hink that a proof."
"Ah, then, he will never forgive you!"
This idea, sharply expressed by Morris's handsome lips, renewed for a moment, to the poor girl's temporarily pacified conscience, all its dreadfu_ividness. "Oh, you must love me very much!" she cried.
"There is no doubt of that, my dear!" her lover rejoined. "You don't like tha_ord 'disinherited,'" he added in a moment.
"It isn't the money; it is that he should—that he should feel so."
"I suppose it seems to you a kind of curse," said Morris. "It must be ver_ismal. But don't you think," he went on presently, "that if you were to tr_o be very clever, and to set rightly about it, you might in the end conjur_t away? Don't you think," he continued further, in a tone of sympatheti_peculation, "that a really clever woman, in your place, might bring him roun_t last? Don't you think?"
Here, suddenly, Morris was interrupted; these ingenious inquiries had no_eached Catherine's ears. The terrible word "disinheritance," with all it_mpressive moral reprobation, was still ringing there; seemed indeed to gathe_orce as it lingered. The mortal chill of her situation struck more deepl_nto her child-like heart, and she was overwhelmed by a feeling of lonelines_nd danger. But her refuge was there, close to her, and she put out her hand_o grasp it. "Ah, Morris," she said, with a shudder, "I will marry you as soo_s you please." And she surrendered herself, leaning her head on his shoulder.
"My dear good girl!" he exclaimed, looking down at his prize. And then h_ooked up again, rather vaguely, with parted lips and lifted eyebrows.