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Chapter 29

  • He came again, without managing the last parting; and again and again, withou_inding that Mrs. Penniman had as yet done much to pave the path of retrea_ith flowers. It was devilish awkward, as he said, and he felt a livel_nimosity for Catherine's aunt, who, as he had now quite formed the habit o_aying to himself, had dragged him into the mess and was bound in commo_harity to get him out of it. Mrs. Penniman, to tell the truth, had, in th_eclusion of her own apartment—and, I may add, amid the suggestiveness o_atherine's, which wore in those days the appearance of that of a young lad_aying out her trousseau—Mrs. Penniman had measured her responsibilities, an_aken fright at their magnitude. The task of preparing Catherine and easin_ff Morris presented difficulties which increased in the execution, and eve_ed the impulsive Lavinia to ask herself whether the modification of the youn_an's original project had been conceived in a happy spirit. A brillian_uture, a wider career, a conscience exempt from the reproach of interferenc_etween a young lady and her natural rights—these excellent things might b_oo troublesomely purchased. From Catherine herself Mrs. Penniman received n_ssistance whatever; the poor girl was apparently without suspicion of he_anger. She looked at her lover with eyes of undiminished trust, and thoug_he had less confidence in her aunt than in a young man with whom she ha_xchanged so many tender vows, she gave her no handle for explaining o_onfessing. Mrs. Penniman, faltering and wavering, declared Catherine was ver_tupid, put off the great scene, as she would have called it, from day to day, and wandered about very uncomfortably, primed, to repletion, with her apology, but unable to bring it to the light. Morris's own scenes were very small one_ust now; but even these were beyond his strength. He made his visits as brie_s possible, and while he sat with his mistress, found terribly little to tal_bout. She was waiting for him, in vulgar parlance, to name the day; and s_ong as he was unprepared to be explicit on this point it seemed a mockery t_retend to talk about matters more abstract. She had no airs and no arts; sh_ever attempted to disguise her expectancy. She was waiting on his goo_leasure, and would wait modestly and patiently; his hanging back at thi_upreme time might appear strange, but of course he must have a good reaso_or it. Catherine would have made a wife of the gentle old-fashioned pattern- -regarding reasons as favours and windfalls, but no more expecting one ever_ay than she would have expected a bouquet of camellias. During the period o_er engagement, however, a young lady even of the most slender pretension_ounts upon more bouquets than at other times; and there was a want of perfum_n the air at this moment which at last excited the girl's alarm.
  • "Are you sick?" she asked of Morris. "You seem so restless, and you loo_ale."
  • "I am not at all well," said Morris; and it occurred to him that, if he coul_nly make her pity him enough, he might get off.
  • "I am afraid you are overworked; you oughtn't to work so much."
  • "I must do that." And then he added, with a sort of calculated brutality, "_on't want to owe you everything!"
  • "Ah, how can you say that?"
  • "I am too proud," said Morris.
  • "Yes—you are too proud!"
  • "Well, you must take me as I am," he went on, "you can never change me."
  • "I don't want to change you," she said gently. "I will take you as you are!"
  • And she stood looking at him.
  • "You know people talk tremendously about a man's marrying a rich girl," Morri_emarked. "It's excessively disagreeable."
  • "But I am not rich?" said Catherine.
  • "You are rich enough to make me talked about!"
  • "Of course you are talked about. It's an honour!"
  • "It's an honour I could easily dispense with."
  • She was on the point of asking him whether it were not a compensation for thi_nnoyance that the poor girl who had the misfortune to bring it upon him, loved him so dearly and believed in him so truly; but she hesitated, thinkin_hat this would perhaps seem an exacting speech, and while she hesitated, h_uddenly left her.
  • The next time he came, however, she brought it out, and she told him agai_hat he was too proud. He repeated that he couldn't change, and this time sh_elt the impulse to say that with a little effort he might change.
  • Sometimes he thought that if he could only make a quarrel with her it migh_elp him; but the question was how to quarrel with a young woman who had suc_reasures of concession. "I suppose you think the effort is all on your side!"
  • he was reduced to exclaiming. "Don't you believe that I have my own effort t_ake?"
  • "It's all yours now," she said. "My effort is finished and done with!"
  • "Well, mine is not."
  • "We must bear things together," said Catherine. "That's what we ought to do."
  • Morris attempted a natural smile. "There are some things which we can't ver_ell bear together—for instance, separation."
  • "Why do you speak of separation?"
  • "Ah! you don't like it; I knew you wouldn't!"
  • "Where are you going, Morris?" she suddenly asked.
  • He fixed his eye on her for a moment, and for a part of that moment she wa_fraid of it. "Will you promise not to make a scene?"
  • "A scene!—do I make scenes?"
  • "All women do!" said Morris, with the tone of large experience.
  • "I don't. Where are you going?"
  • "If I should say I was going away on business, should you think it ver_trange?"
  • She wondered a moment, gazing at him. "Yes—no. Not if you will take me wit_ou."
  • "Take you with me—on business?"
  • "What is your business? Your business is to be with me."
  • "I don't earn my living with you," said Morris. "Or rather," he cried with _udden inspiration, "that's just what I do—or what the world says I do!"
  • This ought perhaps to have been a great stroke, but it miscarried. "Where ar_ou going?" Catherine simply repeated.
  • "To New Orleans. About buying some cotton."
  • "I am perfectly willing to go to New Orleans." Catherine said.
  • "Do you suppose I would take you to a nest of yellow fever?" cried Morris. "D_ou suppose I would expose you at such a time as this?"
  • "If there is yellow fever, why should you go? Morris, you must not go!"
  • "It is to make six thousand dollars," said Morris. "Do you grudge me tha_atisfaction?"
  • "We have no need of six thousand dollars. You think too much about money!"
  • "You can afford to say that? This is a great chance; we heard of it las_ight." And he explained to her in what the chance consisted; and told her _ong story, going over more than once several of the details, about th_emarkable stroke of business which he and his partner had planned betwee_hem.
  • But Catherine's imagination, for reasons best known to herself, absolutel_efused to be fired. "If you can go to New Orleans, I can go," she said. "Wh_houldn't you catch yellow fever quite as easily as I? I am every bit a_trong as you, and not in the least afraid of any fever. When we were i_urope, we were in very unhealthy places; my father used to make me take som_ills. I never caught anything, and I never was nervous. What will be the us_f six thousand dollars if you die of a fever? When persons are going to b_arried they oughtn't to think so much about business. You shouldn't thin_bout cotton, you should think about me. You can go to New Orleans some othe_ime—there will always be plenty of cotton. It isn't the moment to choose—w_ave waited too long already." She spoke more forcibly and volubly than he ha_ver heard her, and she held his arm in her two hands.
  • "You said you wouldn't make a scene!" cried Morris. "I call this a scene."
  • "It's you that are making it! I have never asked you anything before. We hav_aited too long already." And it was a comfort to her to think that she ha_itherto asked so little; it seemed to make her right to insist the greate_ow.
  • Morris bethought himself a little. "Very well, then; we won't talk about i_ny more. I will transact my business by letter." And he began to smooth hi_at, as if to take leave.
  • "You won't go?" And she stood looking up at him.
  • He could not give up his idea of provoking a quarrel; it was so much th_implest way! He bent his eyes on her upturned face, with the darkest frown h_ould achieve. "You are not discreet. You mustn't bully me!"
  • But, as usual, she conceded everything. "No, I am not discreet; I know I a_oo pressing. But isn't it natural? It is only for a moment."
  • "In a moment you may do a great deal of harm. Try and be calmer the next tim_ come."
  • "When will you come?"
  • "Do you want to make conditions?" Morris asked. "I will come next Saturday."
  • "Come to-morrow," Catherine begged; "I want you to come to-morrow. I will b_ery quiet," she added; and her agitation had by this time become so grea_hat the assurance was not becoming. A sudden fear had come over her; it wa_ike the solid conjunction of a dozen disembodied doubts, and her imagination, at a single bound, had traversed an enormous distance. All her being, for th_oment, centred in the wish to keep him in the room.
  • Morris bent his head and kissed her forehead. "When you are quiet, you ar_erfection," he said; "but when you are violent, you are not in character."
  • It was Catherine's wish that there should be no violence about her save th_eating of her heart, which she could not help; and she went on, as gently a_ossible, "Will you promise to come to-morrow?"
  • "I said Saturday!" Morris answered, smiling. He tried a frown at one moment, _mile at another; he was at his wit's end.
  • "Yes, Saturday too," she answered, trying to smile. "But to-morrow first." H_as going to the door, and she went with him quickly. She leaned her shoulde_gainst it; it seemed to her that she would do anything to keep him.
  • "If I am prevented from coming to-morrow, you will say I have deceived you!"
  • he said.
  • "How can you be prevented? You can come if you will."
  • "I am a busy man—I am not a dangler!" cried Morris sternly.
  • His voice was so hard and unnatural that, with a helpless look at him, sh_urned away; and then he quickly laid his hand on the door- knob. He felt a_f he were absolutely running away from her. But in an instant she was clos_o him again, and murmuring in a tone none the less penetrating for being low,
  • "Morris, you are going to leave me."
  • "Yes, for a little while."
  • "For how long?"
  • "Till you are reasonable again."
  • "I shall never be reasonable in that way!" And she tried to keep him longer; it was almost a struggle. "Think of what I have done!" she broke out. "Morris, I have given up everything!"
  • "You shall have everything back!"
  • "You wouldn't say that if you didn't mean something. What is it?— what ha_appened?—what have I done?—what has changed you?"
  • "I will write to you—that is better," Morris stammered.
  • "Ah, you won't come back!" she cried, bursting into tears.
  • "Dear Catherine," he said, "don't believe that I promise you that you shal_ee me again!" And he managed to get away and to close the door behind him.