Mrs. Penniman, with more buckles and bangles than ever, came, of course, t_he entertainment, accompanied by her niece; the Doctor, too, had promised t_ook in later in the evening. There was to be a good deal of dancing, an_efore it had gone very far, Marian Almond came up to Catherine, in compan_ith a tall young man. She introduced the young man as a person who had _reat desire to make our heroine's acquaintance, and as a cousin of Arthu_ownsend, her own intended.
Marian Almond was a pretty little person of seventeen, with a very smal_igure and a very big sash, to the elegance of whose manners matrimony ha_othing to add. She already had all the airs of a hostess, receiving th_ompany, shaking her fan, saying that with so many people to attend to sh_hould have no time to dance. She made a long speech about Mr. Townsend'_ousin, to whom she administered a tap with her fan before turning away t_ther cares. Catherine had not understood all that she said; her attention wa_iven to enjoying Marian's ease of manner and flow of ideas, and to looking a_he young man, who was remarkably handsome. She had succeeded, however, as sh_ften failed to do when people were presented to her, in catching his name, which appeared to be the same as that of Marian's little stockbroker.
Catherine was always agitated by an introduction; it seemed a difficul_oment, and she wondered that some people—her new acquaintance at this moment, for instance— should mind it so little. She wondered what she ought to say, and what would be the consequences of her saying nothing. The consequences a_resent were very agreeable. Mr. Townsend, leaving her no time fo_mbarrassment, began to talk with an easy smile, as if he had known her for _ear.
"What a delightful party! What a charming house! What an interesting family!
What a pretty girl your cousin is!"
These observations, in themselves of no great profundity, Mr. Townsend seeme_o offer for what they were worth, and as a contribution to an acquaintance.
He looked straight into Catherine's eyes. She answered nothing; she onl_istened, and looked at him; and he, as if he expected no particular reply, went on to say many other things in the same comfortable and natural manner.
Catherine, though she felt tongue-tied, was conscious of no embarrassment; i_eemed proper that he should talk, and that she should simply look at him.
What made it natural was that he was so handsome, or rather, as she phrased i_o herself, so beautiful. The music had been silent for a while, but i_uddenly began again; and then he asked her, with a deeper, intenser smile, i_he would do him the honour of dancing with him. Even to this inquiry she gav_o audible assent; she simply let him put his arm round her waist—as she di_o it occurred to her more vividly than it had ever done before, that this wa_ singular place for a gentleman's arm to be—and in a moment he was guidin_er round the room in the harmonious rotation of the polka. When they pause_he felt that she was red; and then, for some moments, she stopped looking a_im. She fanned herself, and looked at the flowers that were painted on he_an. He asked her if she would begin again, and she hesitated to answer, stil_ooking at the flowers.
"Does it make you dizzy?" he asked, in a tone of great kindness.
Then Catherine looked up at him; he was certainly beautiful, and not at al_ed. "Yes," she said; she hardly knew why, for dancing had never made he_izzy.
"Ah, well, in that case," said Mr. Townsend, "we will sit still and talk. _ill find a good place to sit."
He found a good place—a charming place; a little sofa that seemed meant onl_or two persons. The rooms by this time were very full; the dancers increase_n number, and people stood close in front of them, turning their backs, s_hat Catherine and her companion seemed secluded and unobserved. "WE wil_alk," the young man had said; but he still did all the talking. Catherin_eaned back in her place, with her eyes fixed upon him, smiling and thinkin_im very clever. He had features like young men in pictures; Catherine ha_ever seen such features—so delicate, so chiselled and finished—among th_oung New Yorkers whom she passed in the streets and met at parties. He wa_all and slim, but he looked extremely strong. Catherine thought he looke_ike a statue. But a statue would not talk like that, and, above all, woul_ot have eyes of so rare a colour. He had never been at Mrs. Almond's before; he felt very much like a stranger; and it was very kind of Catherine to tak_ity on him. He was Arthur Townsend's cousin—not very near; several time_emoved— and Arthur had brought him to present him to the family. In fact, h_as a great stranger in New York. It was his native place; but he had not bee_here for many years. He had been knocking about the world, and living in far- away lands; he had only come back a month or two before. New York was ver_leasant, only he felt lonely.
"You see, people forget you," he said, smiling at Catherine with hi_elightful gaze, while he leaned forward obliquely, turning towards her, wit_is elbows on his knees.
It seemed to Catherine that no one who had once seen him would ever forge_im; but though she made this reflexion she kept it to herself, almost as yo_ould keep something precious.
They sat there for some time. He was very amusing. He asked her about th_eople that were near them; he tried to guess who some of them were, and h_ade the most laughable mistakes. He criticised them very freely, in _ositive, off-hand way. Catherine had never heard any one—especially any youn_an—talk just like that. It was the way a young man might talk in a novel; o_etter still, in a play, on the stage, close before the footlights, looking a_he audience, and with every one looking at him, so that you wondered at hi_resence of mind. And yet Mr. Townsend was not like an actor; he seemed s_incere, so natural. This was very interesting; but in the midst of it Maria_lmond came pushing through the crowd, with a little ironical cry, when sh_ound these young people still together, which made every one turn round, an_ost Catherine a conscious blush. Marian broke up their talk, and told Mr.
Townsend— whom she treated as if she were already married, and he had becom_er cousin—to run away to her mother, who had been wishing for the last half- hour to introduce him to Mr. Almond.
"We shall meet again!" he said to Catherine as he left her, and Catherin_hought it a very original speech.
Her cousin took her by the arm, and made her walk about. "I needn't ask yo_hat you think of Morris!" the young girl exclaimed.
"Is that his name?"
"I don't ask you what you think of his name, but what you think of himself,"
"Oh, nothing particular!" Catherine answered, dissembling for the first tim_n her life.
"I have half a mind to tell him that!" cried Marian. "It will do him good.
"Don't tell him he's conceited? I have told him so a dozen times."
At this profession of audacity Catherine looked down at her little companio_n amazement. She supposed it was because Marian was going to be married tha_he took so much on herself; but she wondered too, whether, when she hersel_hould become engaged, such exploits would be expected of her.
Half an hour later she saw her Aunt Penniman sitting in the embrasure of _indow, with her head a little on one side, and her gold eye- glass raised t_er eyes, which were wandering about the room. In front of her was _entleman, bending forward a little, with his back turned to Catherine. Sh_new his back immediately, though she had never seen it; for when he had lef_er, at Marian's instigation, he had retreated in the best order, withou_urning round. Morris Townsend—the name had already become very familiar t_er, as if some one had been repeating it in her ear for the last half-hour— Morris Townsend was giving his impressions of the company to her aunt, as h_ad done to herself; he was saying clever things, and Mrs. Penniman wa_miling, as if she approved of them. As soon as Catherine had perceived thi_he moved away; she would not have liked him to turn round and see her. But i_ave her pleasure—the whole thing. That he should talk with Mrs. Penniman, with whom she lived and whom she saw and talked with every day—that seemed t_eep him near her, and to make him even easier to contemplate than if sh_erself had been the object of his civilities; and that Aunt Lavinia shoul_ike him, should not be shocked or startled by what he said, this als_ppeared to the girl a personal gain; for Aunt Lavinia's standard wa_xtremely high, planted as it was over the grave of her late husband, i_hich, as she had convinced every one, the very genius of conversation wa_uried. One of the Almond boys, as Catherine called him, invited our heroin_o dance a quadrille, and for a quarter of an hour her feet at least wer_ccupied. This time she was not dizzy; her head was very clear. Just when th_ance was over, she found herself in the crowd face to face with her father.
Dr. Sloper had usually a little smile, never a very big one, and with hi_ittle smile playing in his clear eyes and on his neatly-shaved lips, h_ooked at his daughter's crimson gown.
"Is it possible that this magnificent person is my child?" he said.
You would have surprised him if you had told him so; but it is a literal fac_hat he almost never addressed his daughter save in the ironical form.
Whenever he addressed her he gave her pleasure; but she had to cut he_leasure out of the piece, as it were. There were portions left over, ligh_emnants and snippets of irony, which she never knew what to do with, whic_eemed too delicate for her own use; and yet Catherine, lamenting th_imitations of her understanding, felt that they were too valuable to wast_nd had a belief that if they passed over her head they yet contributed to th_eneral sum of human wisdom.
"I am not magnificent," she said mildly, wishing that she had put on anothe_ress.
"You are sumptuous, opulent, expensive," her father rejoined. "You look as i_ou had eighty thousand a year."
"Well, so long as I haven't—" said Catherine illogically. Her conception o_er prospective wealth was as yet very indefinite.
"So long as you haven't you shouldn't look as if you had. Have you enjoye_our party?"
Catherine hesitated a moment; and then, looking away, "I am rather tired," sh_urmured. I have said that this entertainment was the beginning of somethin_mportant for Catherine. For the second time in her life she made an indirec_nswer; and the beginning of a period of dissimulation is certainly _ignificant date. Catherine was not so easily tired as that.
Nevertheless, in the carriage, as they drove home, she was as quiet as i_atigue had been her portion. Dr. Sloper's manner of addressing his siste_avinia had a good deal of resemblance to the tone he had adopted toward_atherine.
"Who was the young man that was making love to you?" he presently asked.
"Oh, my good brother!" murmured Mrs. Penniman, in deprecation.
"He seemed uncommonly tender. Whenever I looked at you, for half an hour, h_ad the most devoted air."
"The devotion was not to me," said Mrs. Penniman. "It was to Catherine; h_alked to me of her."
Catherine had been listening with all her ears. "Oh, Aunt Penniman!" sh_xclaimed faintly.
"He is very handsome; he is very clever; he expressed himself with a grea_eal—a great deal of felicity," her aunt went on.
"He is in love with this regal creature, then?" the Doctor inquire_umorously.
"Oh, father," cried the girl, still more faintly, devoutly thankful th_arriage was dark.
"I don't know that; but he admired her dress."
Catherine did not say to herself in the dark, "My dress only?" Mrs. Penniman'_nnouncement struck her by its richness, not by its meagreness.
"You see," said her father, "he thinks you have eighty thousand a year."
"I don't believe he thinks of that," said Mrs. Penniman; "he is too refined."
"He must be tremendously refined not to think of that!"
"Well, he is!" Catherine exclaimed, before she knew it.
"I thought you had gone to sleep," her father answered. "The hour has come!"
he added to himself. "Lavinia is going to get up a romance for Catherine. It'_ shame to play such tricks on the girl. What is the gentleman's name?" h_ent on, aloud.
"I didn't catch it, and I didn't like to ask him. He asked to be introduced t_e," said Mrs. Penniman, with a certain grandeur; "but you know ho_ndistinctly Jefferson speaks." Jefferson was Mr. Almond. "Catherine, dear, what was the gentleman's name?"
For a minute, if it had not been for the rumbling of the carriage, you migh_ave heard a pin drop.
"I don't know, Aunt Lavinia," said Catherine, very softly. And, with all hi_rony, her father believed her.