Our story has hitherto moved with very short steps, but as it approaches its
termination it must take a long stride. As time went on, it might have appeared to
the Doctor that his daughter's account of her rupture with Morris Townsend, mere
bravado as he had deemed it, was in some degree justified by the sequel. Morris
remained as rigidly and unremittingly absent as if he had died of a broken heart,
and Catherine had apparently buried the memory of this fruitless episode as
deep as if it had terminated by her own choice. We know that she had been
deeply and incurably wounded, but the Doctor had no means of knowing it. He
was certainly curious about it, and would have given a good deal to discover the
exact truth; but it was his punishment that he never knew--his punishment, I
mean, for the abuse of sarcasm in his relations with his daughter. There was a
good deal of effective sarcasm in her keeping him in the dark, and the rest of the
world conspired with her, in this sense, to be sarcastic. Mrs. Penniman told him
nothing, partly because he never questioned her--he made too light of Mrs.
Penniman for that--and partly because she flattered herself that a tormenting
reserve, and a serene profession of ignorance, would avenge her for his theory
that she had meddled in the matter. He went two or three times to see Mrs.
Montgomery, but Mrs. Montgomery had nothing to impart. She simply knew that
her brother's engagement was broken off, and now that Miss Sloper was out of
danger she preferred not to bear witness in any way against Morris. She had
done so before--however unwillingly--because she was sorry for Miss Sloper; but
she was not sorry for Miss Sloper now--not at all sorry. Morris had told her
nothing about his relations with Miss Sloper at the time, and he had told her
nothing since. He was always away, and he very seldom wrote to her; she
believed he had gone to California. Mrs. Almond had, in her sister's phrase,
"taken up" Catherine violently since the recent catastrophe; but though the girl
was very grateful to her for her kindness, she revealed no secrets, and the good
lady could give the Doctor no satisfaction. Even, however, had she been able to
narrate to him the private history of his daughter's unhappy love affair, it would
have given her a certain comfort to leave him in ignorance; for Mrs. Almond was
at this time not altogether in sympathy with her brother. She had guessed for
herself that Catherine had been cruelly jilted--she knew nothing from Mrs.
Penniman, for Mrs. Penniman had not ventured to lay the famous explanation of
Morris's motives before Mrs. Almond, though she had thought it good enough for
Catherine--and she pronounced her brother too consistently indifferent to what
the poor creature must have suffered and must still be suffering. Dr. Sloper had
his theory, and he rarely altered his theories. The marriage would have been an
abominable one, and the girl had had a blessed escape. She was not to be pitied
for that, and to pretend to condole with her would have been to make
concessions to the idea that she had ever had a right to think of Morris.
"I put my foot on this idea from the first, and I keep it there now," said the Doctor.
"I don't see anything cruel in that; one can't keep it there too long." To this Mrs.
Almond more than once replied that if Catherine had got rid of her incongruous