Washington Square HTML version

Chapter 9
It was a regular custom with the family in Washington Square to go and spend
Sunday evening at Mrs. Almond's. On the Sunday after the conversation I have
just narrated, this custom was not intermitted and on this occasion, towards the
middle of the evening, Dr. Sloper found reason to withdraw to the library, with his
brother-in-law, to talk over a matter of business. He was absent some twenty
minutes, and when he came back into the circle, which was enlivened by the
presence of several friends of the family, he saw that Morris Townsend had come
in and had lost as little time as possible in seating himself on a small sofa, beside
Catherine. In the large room, where several different groups had been formed,
and the hum of voices and of laughter was loud, these two young persons might
confabulate, as the Doctor phrased it to himself, without attracting attention. He
saw in a moment, however, that his daughter was painfully conscious of his own
observation. She sat motionless, with her eyes bent down, staring at her open
fan, deeply flushed, shrinking together as if to minimise the indiscretion of which
she confessed herself guilty.
The Doctor almost pitied her. Poor Catherine was not defiant; she had no genius
for bravado; and as she felt that her father viewed her companion's attentions
with an unsympathising eye, there was nothing but discomfort for her in the
accident of seeming to challenge him. The Doctor felt, indeed, so sorry for her
that he turned away, to spare her the sense of being watched; and he was so
intelligent a man that, in his thoughts, he rendered a sort of poetic justice to her
"It must be deucedly pleasant for a plain inanimate girl like that to have a
beautiful young fellow come and sit down beside her and whisper to her that he
is her slave--if that is what this one whispers. No wonder she likes it, and that she
thinks me a cruel tyrant; which of course she does, though she is afraid--she
hasn't the animation necessary--to admit it to herself. Poor old Catherine!" mused
the Doctor; "I verily believe she is capable of defending me when Townsend
abuses me!"
And the force of this reflexion, for the moment, was such in making him feel the
natural opposition between his point of view and that of an infatuated child, that
he said to himself that he was perhaps, after all, taking things too hard and crying
out before he was hurt. He must not condemn Morris Townsend unheard. He had
a great aversion to taking things too hard; he thought that half the discomfort and
many of the disappointments of life come from it; and for an instant he asked
himself whether, possibly, he did not appear ridiculous to this intelligent young
man, whose private perception of incongruities he suspected of being keen. At
the end of a quarter of an hour Catherine had got rid of him, and Townsend was
now standing before the fireplace in conversation with Mrs. Almond.
"We will try him again," said the Doctor. And he crossed the room and joined his
sister and her companion, making her a sign that she should leave the young
man to him. She presently did so, while Morris looked at him, smiling, without a
sign of evasiveness in his affable eye.