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Chapter 4
Mrs. Penniman, with more buckles and bangles than ever, came, of course, to
the entertainment, accompanied by her niece; the Doctor, too, had promised to
look in later in the evening. There was to be a good deal of dancing, and before it
had gone very far, Marian Almond came up to Catherine, in company with a tall
young man. She introduced the young man as a person who had a great desire
to make our heroine's acquaintance, and as a cousin of Arthur Townsend, her
own intended.
Marian Almond was a pretty little person of seventeen, with a very small figure
and a very big sash, to the elegance of whose manners matrimony had nothing
to add. She already had all the airs of a hostess, receiving the company, shaking
her fan, saying that with so many people to attend to she should have no time to
dance. She made a long speech about Mr. Townsend's cousin, to whom she
administered a tap with her fan before turning away to other cares. Catherine had
not understood all that she said; her attention was given to enjoying Marian's
ease of manner and flow of ideas, and to looking at the young man, who was
remarkably handsome. She had succeeded, however, as she often 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 difficult moment, 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 at present were very
agreeable. Mr. Townsend, leaving her no time for embarrassment, began to talk
with an easy smile, as if he had known her for a year.
"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 seemed
to offer for what they were worth, and as a contribution to an acquaintance. He
looked straight into Catherine's eyes. She answered nothing; she only listened,
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; it seemed
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 it to herself, so
beautiful. The music had been silent for a while, but it suddenly began again; and
then he asked her, with a deeper, intenser smile, if she would do him the honour
of dancing with him. Even to this inquiry she gave no audible assent; she simply
let him put his arm round her waist--as she did so it occurred to her more vividly
than it had ever done before, that this was a singular place for a gentleman's arm
to be--and in a moment he was guiding her round the room in the harmonious
rotation of the polka. When they paused she felt that she was red; and then, for
some moments, she stopped looking at him. She fanned herself, and looked at