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Chapter 22
He had slightly misrepresented the matter in saying that Catherine had
consented to take the great step. We left her just now declaring that she would
burn her ships behind her; but Morris, after having elicited this declaration, had
become conscious of good reasons for not taking it up. He avoided, gracefully
enough, fixing a day, though he left her under the impression that he had his eye
on one. Catherine may have had her difficulties; but those of her circumspect
suitor are also worthy of consideration. The prize was certainly great; but it was
only to be won by striking the happy mean between precipitancy and caution. It
would be all very well to take one's jump and trust to Providence; Providence was
more especially on the side of clever people, and clever people were known by
an indisposition to risk their bones. The ultimate reward of a union with a young
woman who was both unattractive and impoverished ought to be connected with
immediate disadvantages by some very palpable chain. Between the fear of
losing Catherine and her possible fortune altogether, and the fear of taking her
too soon and finding this possible fortune as void of actuality as a collection of
emptied bottles, it was not comfortable for Morris Townsend to choose; a fact
that should be remembered by readers disposed to judge harshly of a young
man who may have struck them as making but an indifferently successful use of
fine natural parts. He had not forgotten that in any event Catherine had her own
ten thousand a year; he had devoted an abundance of meditation to this
circumstance. But with his fine parts he rated himself high, and he had a perfectly
definite appreciation of his value, which seemed to him inadequately represented
by the sum I have mentioned. At the same time he reminded himself that this
sum was considerable, that everything is relative, and that if a modest income is
less desirable than a large one, the complete absence of revenue is nowhere
accounted an advantage. These reflexions gave him plenty of occupation, and
made it necessary that he should trim his sail.
Dr. Sloper's opposition was the unknown quantity in the problem he had to work
out. The natural way to work it out was by marrying Catherine; but in
mathematics there are many short cuts, and Morris was not without a hope that
he should yet discover one. When Catherine took him at his word and consented
to renounce the attempt to mollify her father, he drew back skilfully enough, as I
have said, and kept the wedding-day still an open question. Her faith in his
sincerity was so complete that she was incapable of suspecting that he was
playing with her; her trouble just now was of another kind. The poor girl had an
admirable sense of honour; and from the moment she had brought herself to the
point of violating her father's wish, it seemed to her that she had no right to enjoy
his protection. It was on her conscience that she ought to live under his roof only
so long as she conformed to his wisdom. There was a great deal of glory in such
a position, but poor Catherine felt that she had forfeited her claim to it. She had
cast her lot with a young man against whom he had solemnly warned her, and
broken the contract under which he provided her with a happy home. She could