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Chapter 31
Though she had forced herself to be calm, she preferred practising this virtue in
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 face to face, but
Mrs. Penniman never met her brother's eye. Late in the evening she went with
him, but without Catherine, to their sister Almond's, where, between the two
ladies, Catherine's unhappy situation was discussed with a frankness that was
conditioned by a good deal of mysterious reticence on Mrs. Penniman's part.
"I am delighted he is not to marry her," said Mrs. Almond, "but he ought to be
horsewhipped all the same."
Mrs. Penniman, who was shocked at her sister's coarseness, replied that he had
been actuated by the noblest of motives--the desire not to impoverish Catherine.
"I am very happy that Catherine is not to be impoverished--but I hope he may
never have a penny too much! And what does the poor girl say to YOU?" Mrs.
Almond asked.
"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 was
perhaps with the consciousness of genius that, on her return that evening to
Washington Square, she again presented herself for admittance at Catherine's
door. 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 father asks you,
say that everything is going on."
Catherine stood there, with her hand on the knob looking at her aunt, but not
asking 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 Aunt
Elizabeth's. I explained the whole thing to your Aunt Elizabeth. I said to your
father I know nothing about it."
"Do you think he will ask me when he sees--when he sees--?" But here
Catherine stopped.
"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 she
at last received a letter from Morris Townsend. It was an epistle of considerable
length, measuring five large square pages, and written at Philadelphia. It was an
explanatory document, and it explained a great many things, chief among which
were the considerations that had led the writer to take advantage of an urgent
"professional" absence to try and banish from his mind 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 could promise her that, whatever his failure, he
would never again interpose between her generous heart and her brilliant
prospects and filial duties. He closed with an intimation that his professional
pursuits might compel him to travel for some months, and with the hope that