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Chapter 28

  • The letter was a word of warning; it informed him that the Doctor had com_ome more impracticable than ever. She might have reflected that Catherin_ould supply him with all the information he needed on this point; but we kno_hat Mrs. Penniman's reflexions were rarely just; and, moreover, she felt tha_t was not for her to depend on what Catherine might do. She was to do he_uty, quite irrespective of Catherine. I have said that her young friend too_is ease with her, and it is an illustration of the fact that he made n_nswer to her letter. He took note of it, amply; but he lighted his cigar wit_t, and he waited, in tranquil confidence that he should receive another. "Hi_tate of mind really freezes my blood," Mrs. Penniman had written, alluding t_er brother; and it would have seemed that upon this statement she coul_ardly improve. Nevertheless, she wrote again, expressing herself with the ai_f a different figure. "His hatred of you burns with a lurid flame—the flam_hat never dies," she wrote. "But it doesn't light up the darkness of you_uture. If my affection could do so, all the years of your life would be a_ternal sunshine. I can extract nothing from C.; she is so terribly secretive, like her father. She seems to expect to be married very soon, and ha_vidently made preparations in Europe— quantities of clothing, ten pairs o_hoes, etc. My dear friend, you cannot set up in married life simply with _ew pairs of shoes, can you? Tell me what you think of this. I am intensel_nxious to see you; I have so much to say. I miss you dreadfully; the hous_eems so empty without you. What is the news down town? Is the busines_xtending? That dear little business—I think it's so brave of you! Couldn't _ome to your office?—just for three minutes? I might pass for a customer—i_hat what you call them? I might come in to buy something—some shares or som_ailroad things. TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK OF THIS PLAN. I would carry a littl_eticule, like a woman of the people."
  • In spite of the suggestion about the reticule, Morris appeared to think poorl_f the plan, for he gave Mrs. Penniman no encouragement whatever to visit hi_ffice, which he had already represented to her as a place peculiarly an_nnaturally difficult to find. But as she persisted in desiring a_nterview—up to the last, after months of intimate colloquy, she called thes_eetings "interviews"—he agreed that they should take a walk together, and wa_ven kind enough to leave his office for this purpose, during the hours a_hich business might have been supposed to be liveliest. It was no surprise t_im, when they met at a street corner, in a region of empty lots an_ndeveloped pavements (Mrs. Penniman being attired as much as possible like a
  • "woman of the people"), to find that, in spite of her urgency, what sh_hiefly had to convey to him was the assurance of her sympathy. Of suc_ssurances, however, he had already a voluminous collection, and it would no_ave been worth his while to forsake a fruitful avocation merely to hear Mrs.
  • Penniman say, for the thousandth time, that she had made his cause her own.
  • Morris had something of his own to say. It was not an easy thing to bring out, and while he turned it over the difficulty made him acrimonious.
  • "Oh yes, I know perfectly that he combines the properties of a lump of ice an_ red-hot coal," he observed. "Catherine has made it thoroughly clear, and yo_ave told me so till I am sick of it. You needn't tell me again; I a_erfectly satisfied. He will never give us a penny; I regard that a_athematically proved."
  • Mrs. Penniman at this point had an inspiration.
  • "Couldn't you bring a lawsuit against him?" She wondered that this simpl_xpedient had never occurred to her before.
  • "I will bring a lawsuit against YOU," said Morris, "if you ask me any mor_uch aggravating questions. A man should know when he is beaten," he added, i_ moment. "I must give her up!"
  • Mrs. Penniman received this declaration in silence, though it made her hear_eat a little. It found her by no means unprepared, for she had accustome_erself to the thought that, if Morris should decidedly not be able to get he_rother's money, it would not do for him to marry Catherine without it. "I_ould not do" was a vague way of putting the thing; but Mrs. Penniman'_atural affection completed the idea, which, though it had not as yet been s_rudely expressed between them as in the form that Morris had just given it, had nevertheless been implied so often, in certain easy intervals of talk, a_e sat stretching his legs in the Doctor's well-stuffed armchairs, that sh_ad grown first to regard it with an emotion which she flattered herself wa_hilosophic, and then to have a secret tenderness for it. The fact that sh_ept her tenderness secret proves, of course, that she was ashamed of it; bu_he managed to blink her shame by reminding herself that she was, after all, the official protector of her niece's marriage. Her logic would scarcely hav_assed muster with the Doctor. In the first place, Morris MUST get the money, and she would help him to it. In the second, it was plain it would never com_o him, and it would be a grievous pity he should marry without it—a young ma_ho might so easily find something better. After her brother had delivere_imself, on his return from Europe, of that incisive little address that ha_een quoted, Morris's cause seemed so hopeless that Mrs. Penniman fixed he_ttention exclusively upon the latter branch of her argument. If Morris ha_een her son, she would certainly have sacrificed Catherine to a superio_onception of his future; and to be ready to do so as the case stood wa_herefore even a finer degree of devotion. Nevertheless, it checked her breat_ little to have the sacrificial knife, as it were, suddenly thrust into he_and.
  • Morris walked along a moment, and then he repeated harshly: "I must give he_p!"
  • "I think I understand you," said Mrs. Penniman gently.
  • "I certainly say it distinctly enough—brutally and vulgarly enough."
  • He was ashamed of himself, and his shame was uncomfortable; and as he wa_xtremely intolerant of discomfort, he felt vicious and cruel. He wanted t_buse somebody, and he began, cautiously—for he was always cautious—wit_imself.
  • "Couldn't you take her down a little?" he asked.
  • "Take her down?"
  • "Prepare her—try and ease me off."
  • Mrs. Penniman stopped, looking at him very solemnly.
  • "My poor Morris, do you know how much she loves you?"
  • "No, I don't. I don't want to know. I have always tried to keep from knowing.
  • It would be too painful."
  • "She will suffer much," said Mrs. Penniman.
  • "You must console her. If you are as good a friend to me as you pretend to be, you will manage it."
  • Mrs. Penniman shook her head sadly.
  • "You talk of my 'pretending' to like you; but I can't pretend to hate you. _an only tell her I think very highly of you; and how will that console he_or losing you?"
  • "The Doctor will help you. He will be delighted at the thing being broken off, and, as he is a knowing fellow, he will invent something to comfort her."
  • "He will invent a new torture!" cried Mrs. Penniman. "Heaven deliver her fro_er father's comfort. It will consist of his crowing over her and saying, '_lways told you so!'"
  • Morris coloured a most uncomfortable red.
  • "If you don't console her any better than you console me, you certainly won'_e of much use! It's a damned disagreeable necessity; I feel it extremely, an_ou ought to make it easy for me."
  • "I will be your friend for life!" Mrs. Penniman declared.
  • "Be my friend NOW!" And Morris walked on.
  • She went with him; she was almost trembling.
  • "Should you like me to tell her?" she asked. "You mustn't tell her, but yo_an—you can—" And he hesitated, trying to think what Mrs. Penniman could do.
  • "You can explain to her why it is. It's because I can't bring myself to ste_n between her and her father—to give him the pretext he grasps at—so eagerly (it's a hideous sight) for depriving her of her rights."
  • Mrs. Penniman felt with remarkable promptitude the charm of this formula.
  • "That's so like you," she said; "it's so finely felt."
  • Morris gave his stick an angry swing.
  • "Oh, botheration!" he exclaimed perversely.
  • Mrs. Penniman, however, was not discouraged.
  • "It may turn out better than you think. Catherine is, after all, so ver_eculiar." And she thought she might take it upon herself to assure him that, whatever happened, the girl would be very quiet—she wouldn't make a noise.
  • They extended their walk, and, while they proceeded, Mrs. Penniman took upo_erself other things besides, and ended by having assumed a considerabl_urden; Morris being ready enough, as may be imagined, to put everything of_pon her. But he was not for a single instant the dupe of her blunderin_lacrity; he knew that of what she promised she was competent to perform bu_n insignificant fraction, and the more she professed her willingness to serv_im, the greater fool he thought her.
  • "What will you do if you don't marry her?" she ventured to inquire in th_ourse of this conversation.
  • "Something brilliant," said Morris. "Shouldn't you like me to do somethin_rilliant?"
  • The idea gave Mrs. Penniman exceeding pleasure.
  • "I shall feel sadly taken in if you don't."
  • "I shall have to, to make up for this. This isn't at all brilliant, you know."
  • Mrs. Penniman mused a little, as if there might be some way of making out tha_t was; but she had to give up the attempt, and, to carry off the awkwardnes_f failure, she risked a new inquiry.
  • "Do you mean—do you mean another marriage?"
  • Morris greeted this question with a reflexion which was hardly the les_mpudent from being inaudible. "Surely, women are more crude than men!" An_hen he answered audibly:
  • "Never in the world!"
  • Mrs. Penniman felt disappointed and snubbed, and she relieved herself in _ittle vaguely-sarcastic cry. He was certainly perverse.
  • "I give her up, not for another woman, but for a wider career!" Morri_nnounced.
  • This was very grand; but still Mrs. Penniman, who felt that she had expose_erself, was faintly rancorous.
  • "Do you mean never to come to see her again?" she asked, with some sharpness.
  • "Oh no, I shall come again; but what is the use of dragging it out? I hav_een four times since she came back, and it's terribly awkward work. I can'_eep it up indefinitely; she oughtn't to expect that, you know. A woman shoul_ever keep a man dangling!" he added finely.
  • "Ah, but you must have your last parting!" urged his companion, in whos_magination the idea of last partings occupied a place inferior in dignit_nly to that of first meetings.