Washington Square HTML version

Chapter 34
It was her habit to remain in town very late in the summer; she preferred the
house in Washington Square to any other habitation whatever, and it was under
protest that she used to go to the seaside for the month of August. At the sea she
spent her month at an hotel. The year that her father died she intermitted this
custom altogether, not thinking it consistent with deep mourning; and the year
after that she put off her departure till so late that the middle of August found her
still in the heated solitude of Washington Square. Mrs. Penniman, who was fond
of a change, was usually eager for a visit to the country; but this year she
appeared quite content with such rural impressions as she could gather, at the
parlour window, from the ailantus-trees behind the wooden paling. The peculiar
fragrance of this vegetation used to diffuse itself in the evening air, and Mrs.
Penniman, on the warm nights of July, often sat at the open window and inhaled
it. This was a happy moment for Mrs. Penniman; after the death of her brother
she felt more free to obey her impulses. A vague oppression had disappeared
from her life, and she enjoyed a sense of freedom of which she had not been
conscious since the memorable time, so long ago, when the Doctor went abroad
with Catherine and left her at home to entertain Morris Townsend. The year that
had elapsed since her brother's death reminded her--of that happy time,
because, although Catherine, in growing older, had become a person to be
reckoned with, yet her society was a very different thing, as Mrs. Penniman said,
from that of a tank of cold water. The elder lady hardly knew what use to make of
this larger margin of her life; she sat and looked at it very much as she had often
sat, with her poised needle in her hand, before her tapestry frame. She had a
confident hope, however, that her rich impulses, her talent for embroidery, would
still find their application, and this confidence was justified before many months
had elapsed.
Catherine continued to live in her father's house in spite of its being represented
to her that a maiden lady of quiet habits might find a more convenient abode in
one of the smaller dwellings, with brown stone fronts, which had at this time
begun to adorn the transverse thoroughfares in the upper part of the town. She
liked the earlier structure--it had begun by this time to be called an "old" house--
and proposed to herself to end her days in it. If it was too large for a pair of
unpretending gentlewomen, this was better than the opposite fault; for Catherine
had no desire to find herself in closer quarters with her aunt. She expected to
spend the rest of her life in Washington Square, and to enjoy Mrs. Penniman's
society for the whole of this period; as she had a conviction that, long as she
might live, her aunt would live at least as long, and always retain her brilliancy
and activity. Mrs. Penniman suggested to her the idea of a rich vitality.
On one of those warm evenings in July of which mention has been made, the two
ladies sat together at an open window, looking out on the quiet Square. It was
too hot for lighted lamps, for reading, or for work; it might have appeared too hot
even for conversation, Mrs. Penniman having long been speechless. She sat
forward in the window, half on the balcony, humming a little song. Catherine was