Though she had forced herself to be calm, she preferred practising this virtu_n private, and she forbore to show herself at tea—a repast which, on Sundays,
at six o'clock, took the place of dinner. Dr. Sloper and his sister sat fac_o face, but Mrs. Penniman never met her brother's eye. Late in the evenin_he went with him, but without Catherine, to their sister Almond's, where,
between the two ladies, Catherine's unhappy situation was discussed with _rankness that was conditioned by a good deal of mysterious reticence on Mrs.
"I am delighted he is not to marry her," said Mrs. Almond, "but he ought to b_orsewhipped all the same."
Mrs. Penniman, who was shocked at her sister's coarseness, replied that he ha_een actuated by the noblest of motives—the desire not to impoveris_atherine.
"I am very happy that Catherine is not to be impoverished—but I hope he ma_ever have a penny too much! And what does the poor girl say to YOU?" Mrs.
"She says I have a genius for consolation," said Mrs. Penniman.
This was the account of the matter that she gave to her sister, and it wa_erhaps with the consciousness of genius that, on her return that evening t_ashington Square, she again presented herself for admittance at Catherine'_oor. Catherine came and opened it; she was apparently very quiet.
"I only want to give you a little word of advice," she said. "If your fathe_sks you, say that everything is going on."
Catherine stood there, with her hand on the knob looking at her aunt, but no_sking her to come in. "Do you think he will ask me?"
"I am sure he will. He asked me just now, on our way home from your Aun_lizabeth's. I explained the whole thing to your Aunt Elizabeth. I said t_our father I know nothing about it."
"Do you think he will ask me when he sees—when he sees—?" But here Catherin_topped.
"The more he sees the more disagreeable he will be," said her aunt.
"He shall see as little as possible!" Catherine declared.
"Tell him you are to be married."
"So I am," said Catherine softly; and she closed the door upon her aunt.
She could not have said this two days later—for instance, on Tuesday, when sh_t last received a letter from Morris Townsend. It was an epistle o_onsiderable length, measuring five large square pages, and written a_hiladelphia. It was an explanatory document, and it explained a great man_hings, chief among which were the considerations that had led the writer t_ake advantage of an urgent "professional" absence to try and banish from hi_ind the image of one whose path he had crossed only to scatter it with ruins.
He ventured to expect but partial success in this attempt, but he coul_romise her that, whatever his failure, he would never again interpose betwee_er generous heart and her brilliant prospects and filial duties. He close_ith an intimation that his professional pursuits might compel him to trave_or some months, and with the hope that when they should each hav_ccommodated themselves to what was sternly involved in their respectiv_ositions—even should this result not be reached for years—they should meet a_riends, as fellow-sufferers, as innocent but philosophic victims of a grea_ocial law. That her life should be peaceful and happy was the dearest wish o_im who ventured still to subscribe himself her most obedient servant. Th_etter was beautifully written, and Catherine, who kept it for many year_fter this, was able, when her sense of the bitterness of its meaning and th_ollowness of its tone had grown less acute, to admire its grace o_xpression. At present, for a long time after she received it, all she had t_elp her was the determination, daily more rigid, to make no appeal to th_ompassion of her father.
He suffered a week to elapse, and then one day, in the morning, at an hour a_hich she rarely saw him, he strolled into the back parlour. He had watche_is time, and he found her alone. She was sitting with some work, and he cam_nd stood in front of her. He was going out, he had on his hat and was drawin_n his gloves.
"It doesn't seem to me that you are treating me just now with all th_onsideration I deserve," he said in a moment.
"I don't know what I have done," Catherine answered, with her eyes on he_ork.
"You have apparently quite banished from your mind the request I made you a_iverpool, before we sailed; the request that you would notify me in advanc_efore leaving my house."
"I have not left your house!" said Catherine.
"But you intend to leave it, and by what you gave me to understand, you_eparture must be impending. In fact, though you are still here in body, yo_re already absent in spirit. Your mind has taken up its residence with you_rospective husband, and you might quite as well be lodged under the conjuga_oof, for all the benefit we get from your society."
"I will try and be more cheerful!" said Catherine.
"You certainly ought to be cheerful, you ask a great deal if you are not. T_he pleasure of marrying a brilliant young man, you add that of having you_wn way; you strike me as a very lucky young lady!"
Catherine got up; she was suffocating. But she folded her work, deliberatel_nd correctly, bending her burning face upon it. Her father stood where he ha_lanted himself; she hoped he would go, but he smoothed and buttoned hi_loves, and then he rested his hands upon his hips.
"It would be a convenience to me to know when I may expect to have an empt_ouse," he went on. "When you go, your aunt marches."
She looked at him at last, with a long silent gaze, which, in spite of he_ride and her resolution, uttered part of the appeal she had tried not t_ake. Her father's cold grey eye sounded her own, and he insisted on hi_oint.
"Is it to-morrow? Is it next week, or the week after?"
"I shall not go away!" said Catherine.
The Doctor raised his eyebrows. "Has he backed out?"
"I have broken off my engagement."
"Broken it off?"
"I have asked him to leave New York, and he has gone away for a long time."
The Doctor was both puzzled and disappointed, but he solved his perplexity b_aying to himself that his daughter simply misrepresented—justifiably, if on_ould? but nevertheless misrepresented—the facts; and he eased off hi_isappointment, which was that of a man losing a chance for a little triump_hat he had rather counted on, by a few words that he uttered aloud.
"How does he take his dismissal?"
"I don't know!" said Catherine, less ingeniously than she had hitherto spoken.
"You mean you don't care? You are rather cruel, after encouraging him an_laying with him for so long!"