Washington Square HTML version

Chapter 29
He came again, without managing the last parting; and again and again, without
finding that Mrs. Penniman had as yet done much to pave the path of retreat with
flowers. It was devilish awkward, as he said, and he felt a lively animosity for
Catherine's aunt, who, as he had now quite formed the habit of saying to himself,
had dragged him into the mess and was bound in common charity to get him out
of it. Mrs. Penniman, to tell the truth, had, in the seclusion of her own apartment--
and, I may add, amid the suggestiveness of Catherine's, which wore in those
days the appearance of that of a young lady laying out her trousseau--Mrs.
Penniman had measured her responsibilities, and taken fright at their magnitude.
The task of preparing Catherine and easing off Morris presented difficulties which
increased in the execution, and even led the impulsive Lavinia to ask herself
whether the modification of the young man's original project had been conceived
in a happy spirit. A brilliant future, a wider career, a conscience exempt from the
reproach of interference between a young lady and her natural rights--these
excellent things might be too troublesomely purchased. From Catherine herself
Mrs. Penniman received no assistance whatever; the poor girl was apparently
without suspicion of her danger. She looked at her lover with eyes of
undiminished trust, and though she had less confidence in her aunt than in a
young man with whom she had exchanged so many tender vows, she gave her
no handle for explaining or confessing. Mrs. Penniman, faltering and wavering,
declared Catherine was very stupid, 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 ones just now; but even these were beyond his strength. He
made his visits as brief as possible, and while he sat with his mistress, found
terribly little to talk about. She was waiting for him, in vulgar parlance, to name
the day; and so long as he was unprepared to be explicit on this point it seemed
a mockery to pretend to talk about matters more abstract. She had no airs and
no arts; she never attempted to disguise her expectancy. She was waiting on his
good pleasure, and would wait modestly and patiently; his hanging back at this
supreme time might appear strange, but of course he must have a good reason
for it. Catherine would have made a wife of the gentle old-fashioned pattern- -
regarding reasons as favours and windfalls, but no more expecting one every
day than she would have expected a bouquet of camellias. During the period of
her engagement, however, a young lady even of the most slender pretensions
counts upon more bouquets than at other times; and there was a want of
perfume in 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 look pale."
"I am not at all well," said Morris; and it occurred to him that, if he could only
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, "I don't
want to owe you everything!"