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Chapter 2
When the child was about ten years old, he invited his sister, Mrs. Penniman, to
come and stay with him. The Miss Slopers had been but two in number, and both
of them had married early in life. The younger, Mrs. Almond by name, was the
wife of a prosperous merchant, and the mother of a blooming family. She
bloomed herself, indeed, and was a comely, comfortable, reasonable woman,
and a favourite with her clever brother, who, in the matter of women, even when
they were nearly related to him, was a man of distinct preferences. He preferred
Mrs. Almond to his sister Lavinia, who had married a poor clergyman, of a sickly
constitution and a flowery style of eloquence, and then, at the age of thirty-three,
had been left a widow, without children, without fortune--with nothing but the
memory of Mr. Penniman's flowers of speech, a certain vague aroma of which
hovered about her own conversation. Nevertheless he had offered her a home
under his own roof, which Lavinia accepted with the alacrity of a woman who had
spent the ten years of her married life in the town of Poughkeepsie. The Doctor
had not proposed to Mrs. Penniman to come and live with him indefinitely; he
had suggested that she should make an asylum of his house while she looked
about for unfurnished lodgings. It is uncertain whether Mrs. Penniman ever
instituted a search for unfurnished lodgings, but it is beyond dispute that she
never found them. She settled herself with her brother and never went away, and
when Catherine was twenty years old her Aunt Lavinia was still one of the most
striking features of her immediate entourage.
Mrs. Penniman's own account of the matter was that she had remained to take
charge of her niece's education. She had given this account, at least, to every
one but the Doctor, who never asked for explanations which he could entertain
himself any day with inventing. Mrs. Penniman, moreover, though she had a
good deal of a certain sort of artificial assurance, shrank, for indefinable reasons,
from presenting herself to her brother as a fountain of instruction. She had not a
high sense of humour, but she had enough to prevent her from making this
mistake; and her brother, on his side, had enough to excuse her, in her situation,
for laying him under contribution during a considerable part of a lifetime. He
therefore assented tacitly to the proposition which Mrs. Penniman had tacitly laid
down, that it was of importance that the poor motherless girl should have a
brilliant woman near her. His assent could only be tacit, for he had never been
dazzled by his sister's intellectual lustre. Save when he fell in love with Catherine
Harrington, he had never been dazzled, indeed, by any feminine characteristics
whatever; and though he was to a certain extent what is called a ladies' doctor,
his private opinion of the more complicated sex was not exalted. He regarded its
complications as more curious than edifying, and he had an idea of the beauty of
REASON, which was, on the whole, meagrely gratified by what he observed in
his female patients. His wife had been a reasonable woman, but she was a bright
exception; among several things that he was sure of, this was perhaps the
principal. Such a conviction, of course, did little either to mitigate or to abbreviate
his widowhood; and it set a limit to his recognition, at the best, of Catherine's