Catherine listened for her father when he came in that evening, and she heard him go to his study. She sat quiet, though her heart was beating fast, for nearly half an hour; then she went and knocked at his door--a ceremony without which she never crossed the threshold of this apartment. On entering it now she found him in his chair beside the fire, entertaining himself with a cigar and the evening paper.
"I have something to say to you," she began very gently; and she sat down in the first place that offered.
"I shall be very happy to hear it, my dear," said her father. He waited--waited, looking at her, while she stared, in a long silence, at the fire. He was curious and impatient, for he was sure she was going to speak of Morris Townsend; but he let her take her own time, for he was determined to be very mild.
"I am engaged to be married!" Catherine announced at last, still staring at the fire.
The Doctor was startled; the accomplished fact was more than he had expected. But he betrayed no surprise. "You do right to tell me," he simply said. "And who is the happy mortal whom you have honoured with your choice?"
"Mr. Morris Townsend." And as she pronounced her lover's name, Catherine looked at him. What she saw was her father's still grey eye and his clear-cut, definite smile. She contemplated these objects for a moment, and then she looked back at the fire; it was much warmer.
"When was this arrangement made?" the Doctor asked.
"This afternoon--two hours ago."
"Was Mr. Townsend here?"
"Yes, father; in the front parlour." She was very glad that she was not obliged to tell him that the ceremony of their betrothal had taken place out there under the bare ailantus-trees.
"Is it serious?" said the Doctor.
"Very serious, father."
Her father was silent a moment. "Mr. Townsend ought to have told me."
"He means to tell you to-morrow."
"After I know all about it from you? He ought to have told me before. Does he think I didn't care--because I left you so much liberty?"
"Oh no," said Catherine; "he knew you would care. And we have been so much obliged to you for--for the liberty."
The Doctor gave a short laugh. "You might have made a better use of it, Catherine."
"Please don't say that, father," the girl urged softly, fixing her dull and gentle eyes upon him.
He puffed his cigar awhile, meditatively. "You have gone very fast," he said at last.
"Yes," Catherine answered simply; "I think we have."
Her father glanced at her an instant, removing his eyes from the fire. "I don't wonder Mr. Townsend likes you. You are so simple and so good."
"I don't know why it is--but he DOES like me. I am sure of that."
"And are you very fond of Mr. Townsend?"
"I like him very much, of course--or I shouldn't consent to marry him."
"But you have known him a very short time, my dear."
"Oh," said Catherine, with some eagerness, "it doesn't take long to like a person--when once you begin."
"You must have begun very quickly. Was it the first time you saw him--that night at your aunt's party?"
"I don't know, father," the girl answered. "I can't tell you about that."
"Of course; that's your own affair. You will have observed that I have acted on that principle. I have not interfered, I have left you your liberty, I have remembered that you are no longer a little girl- -that you have arrived at years of discretion."
"I feel very old--and very wise," said Catherine, smiling faintly.
"I am afraid that before long you will feel older and wiser yet. I don't like your engagement."
"Ah!" Catherine exclaimed softly, getting up from her chair.
"No, my dear. I am sorry to give you pain; but I don't like it. You should have consulted me before you settled it. I have been too easy with you, and I feel as if you had taken advantage of my indulgence. Most decidedly, you should have spoken to me first."
Catherine hesitated a moment, and then--"It was because I was afraid you wouldn't like it!" she confessed.
"Ah, there it is! You had a bad conscience."
"No, I have not a bad conscience, father!" the girl cried out, with considerable energy. "Please don't accuse me of anything so dreadful." These words, in fact, represented to her imagination something very terrible indeed, something base and cruel, which she associated with malefactors and prisoners. "It was because I was afraid--afraid--" she went on.
"If you were afraid, it was because you had been foolish!"
"I was afraid you didn't like Mr. Townsend."
"You were quite right. I don't like him."
"Dear father, you don't know him," said Catherine, in a voice so timidly argumentative that it might have touched him.
"Very true; I don't know him intimately. But I know him enough. I have my impression of him. You don't know him either."
She stood before the fire, with her hands lightly clasped in front of her; and her father, leaning back in his chair and looking up at her, made this remark with a placidity that might have been irritating.
I doubt, however, whether Catherine was irritated, though she broke into a vehement protest. "I don't know him?" she cried. "Why, I know him--better than I have ever known any one!"
"You know a part of him--what he has chosen to show you. But you don't know the rest."
"The rest? What is the rest?"
"Whatever it may be. There is sure to be plenty of it."
"I know what you mean," said Catherine, remembering how Morris had forewarned her. "You mean that he is mercenary."
Her father looked up at her still, with his cold, quiet reasonable eye. "If I meant it, my dear, I should say it! But there is an error I wish particularly to avoid--that of rendering Mr. Townsend more interesting to you by saying hard things about him."
"I won't think them hard if they are true," said Catherine.
"If you don't, you will be a remarkably sensible young woman!"
"They will be your reasons, at any rate, and you will want me to hear your reasons."
The Doctor smiled a little. "Very true. You have a perfect right to ask for them." And he puffed his cigar a few moments. "Very well, then, without accusing Mr. Townsend of being in love only with your fortune--and with the fortune that you justly expect--I will say that there is every reason to suppose that these good things have entered into his calculation more largely than a tender solicitude for your happiness strictly requires. There is, of course, nothing impossible in an intelligent young man entertaining a disinterested affection for you. You are an honest, amiable girl, and an intelligent young man might easily find it out. But the principal thing that we know about this young man--who is, indeed, very intelligent--leads us to suppose that, however much he may value your personal merits, he values your money more. The principal thing we know about him is that he has led a life of dissipation, and has spent a fortune of his own in doing so. That is enough for me, my dear. I wish you to marry a young man with other antecedents--a young man who could give positive guarantees. If Morris Townsend has spent his own fortune in amusing himself, there is every reason to believe that he would spend yours."
The Doctor delivered himself of these remarks slowly, deliberately, with occasional pauses and prolongations of accent, which made no great allowance for poor Catherine's suspense as to his conclusion. She sat down at last, with her head bent and her eyes still fixed upon him; and strangely enough--I hardly know how to tell it--even while she felt that what he said went so terribly against her, she admired his neatness and nobleness of expression. There was something hopeless and oppressive in having to argue with her father; but she too, on her side, must try to be clear. He was so quiet; he was not at all angry; and she too must be quiet. But her very effort to be quiet made her tremble.
"That is not the principal thing we know about him," she said; and there was a touch of her tremor in her voice. "There are other things--many other things. He has very high abilities--he wants so much to do something. He is kind, and generous, and true," said poor Catherine, who had not suspected hitherto the resources of her eloquence. "And his fortune--his fortune that he spent--was very small!"
"All the more reason he shouldn't have spent it," cried the Doctor, getting up, with a laugh. Then as Catherine, who had also risen to her feet again, stood there in her rather angular earnestness, wishing so much and expressing so little, he drew her towards him and kissed her. "You won't think me cruel?" he said, holding her a moment.
This question was not reassuring; it seemed to Catherine, on the contrary, to suggest possibilities which made her feel sick. But she answered coherently enough--"No, dear father; because if you knew how I feel--and you must know, you know everything--you would be so kind, so gentle."
"Yes, I think I know how you feel," the Doctor said. "I will be very kind--be sure of that. And I will see Mr. Townsend to-morrow. Meanwhile, and for the present, be so good as to mention to no one that you are engaged."
On the morrow, in the afternoon, he stayed at home, awaiting Mr. Townsend's call--a proceeding by which it appeared to him (justly perhaps, for he was a very busy man) that he paid Catherine's suitor great honour, and gave both these young people so much the less to complain of. Morris presented himself with a countenance sufficiently serene--he appeared to have forgotten the "insult" for which he had solicited Catherine's sympathy two evenings before, and Dr. Sloper lost no time in letting him know that he had been prepared for his visit.
"Catherine told me yesterday what has been going on between you," he said. "You must allow me to say that it would have been becoming of you to give me notice of your intentions before they had gone so far."
"I should have done so," Morris answered, "if you had not had so much the appearance of leaving your daughter at liberty. She seems to me quite her own mistress."
"Literally, she is. But she has not emancipated herself morally quite so far, I trust, as to choose a husband without consulting me. I have left her at liberty, but I have not been in the least indifferent. The truth is that your little affair has come to a head with a rapidity that surprises me. It was only the other day that Catherine made your acquaintance."
"It was not long ago, certainly," said Morris, with great gravity. "I admit that we have not been slow to--to arrive at an understanding. But that was very natural, from the moment we were sure of ourselves--and of each other. My interest in Miss Sloper began the first time I saw her."
"Did it not by chance precede your first meeting?" the Doctor asked.
Morris looked at him an instant. "I certainly had already heard that she was a charming girl."
"A charming girl--that's what you think her?"
"Assuredly. Otherwise I should not be sitting here."
The Doctor meditated a moment. "My dear young man," he said at last, "you must be very susceptible. As Catherine's father, I have, I trust, a just and tender appreciation of her many good qualities; but I don't mind telling you that I have never thought of her as a charming girl, and never expected any one else to do so."
Morris Townsend received this statement with a smile that was not wholly devoid of deference. "I don't know what I might think of her if I were her father. I can't put myself in that place. I speak from my own point of view."
"You speak very well," said the Doctor; "but that is not all that is necessary. I told Catherine yesterday that I disapproved of her engagement."
"She let me know as much, and I was very sorry to hear it. I am greatly disappointed." And Morris sat in silence awhile, looking at the floor.
"Did you really expect I would say I was delighted, and throw my daughter into your arms?"
"Oh no; I had an idea you didn't like me."
"What gave you the idea?"
"The fact that I am poor."
"That has a harsh sound," said the Doctor, "but it is about the truth--speaking of you strictly as a son-in-law. Your absence of means, of a profession, of visible resources or prospects, places you in a category from which it would be imprudent for me to select a husband for my daughter, who is a weak young woman with a large fortune. In any other capacity I am perfectly prepared to like you. As a son-in-law, I abominate you!"
Morris Townsend listened respectfully. "I don't think Miss Sloper is a weak woman," he presently said.
"Of course you must defend her--it's the least you can do. But I have known my child twenty years, and you have known her six weeks. Even if she were not weak, however, you would still be a penniless man."
"Ah, yes; that is MY weakness! And therefore, you mean, I am mercenary--I only want your daughter's money."
"I don't say that. I am not obliged to say it; and to say it, save under stress of compulsion, would be very bad taste. I say simply that you belong to the wrong category."
"But your daughter doesn't marry a category," Townsend urged, with his handsome smile. "She marries an individual--an individual whom she is so good as to say she loves."
"An individual who offers so little in return!"
"Is it possible to offer more than the most tender affection and a lifelong devotion?" the young man demanded.
"It depends how we take it. It is possible to offer a few other things besides; and not only is it possible, but it's usual. A lifelong devotion is measured after the fact; and meanwhile it is customary in these cases to give a few material securities. What are yours? A very handsome face and figure, and a very good manner. They are excellent as far as they go, but they don't go far enough."
"There is one thing you should add to them," said Morris; "the word of a gentleman!"
"The word of a gentleman that you will always love Catherine? You must be a very fine gentleman to be sure of that."
"The word of a gentleman that I am not mercenary; that my affection for Miss Sloper is as pure and disinterested a sentiment as was ever lodged in a human breast! I care no more for her fortune than for the ashes in that grate."
"I take note--I take note," said the Doctor. "But having done so, I turn to our category again. Even with that solemn vow on your lips, you take your place in it. There is nothing against you but an accident, if you will; but with my thirty years' medical practice, I have seen that accidents may have far-reaching consequences."
Morris smoothed his hat--it was already remarkably glossy--and continued to display a self-control which, as the Doctor was obliged to admit, was extremely creditable to him. But his disappointment was evidently keen.
"Is there nothing I can do to make you believe in me?"
"If there were I should be sorry to suggest it, for--don't you see?-- I don't want to believe in you!" said the Doctor, smiling.
"I would go and dig in the fields."
"That would be foolish."
"I will take the first work that offers, to-morrow."
"Do so by all means--but for your own sake, not for mine."
"I see; you think I am an idler!" Morris exclaimed, a little too much in the tone of a man who has made a discovery. But he saw his error immediately, and blushed.
"It doesn't matter what I think, when once I have told you I don't think of you as a son-in-law."
But Morris persisted. "You think I would squander her money."
The Doctor smiled. "It doesn't matter, as I say; but I plead guilty to that."
"That's because I spent my own, I suppose," said Morris. "I frankly confess that. I have been wild. I have been foolish. I will tell you every crazy thing I ever did, if you like. There were some great follies among the number--I have never concealed that. But I have sown my wild oats. Isn't there some proverb about a reformed rake? I was not a rake, but I assure you I have reformed. It is better to have amused oneself for a while and have done with it. Your daughter would never care for a milksop; and I will take the liberty of saying that you would like one quite as little. Besides, between my money and hers there is a great difference. I spent my own; it was because it was my own that I spent it. And I made no debts; when it was gone I stopped. I don't owe a penny in the world."
"Allow me to inquire what you are living on now--though I admit," the Doctor added, "that the question, on my part, is inconsistent."
"I am living on the remnants of my property," said Morris Townsend.
"Thank you!" the Doctor gravely replied.
Yes, certainly, Morris's self-control was laudable. "Even admitting I attach an undue importance to Miss Sloper's fortune," he went on, "would not that be in itself an assurance that I should take much care of it?"
"That you should take too much care would be quite as bad as that you should take too little. Catherine might suffer as much by your economy as by your extravagance."
"I think you are very unjust!" The young man made this declaration decently, civilly, without violence.
"It is your privilege to think so, and I surrender my reputation to you! I certainly don't flatter myself I gratify you."
"Don't you care a little to gratify your daughter? Do you enjoy the idea of making her miserable?"
"I am perfectly resigned to her thinking me a tyrant for a twelvemonth."
"For a twelvemonth!" exclaimed Morris, with a laugh.
"For a lifetime, then! She may as well be miserable in that way as in the other."
Here at last Morris lost his temper. "Ah, you are not polite, sir!" he cried.
"You push me to it--you argue too much."
"I have a great deal at stake."
"Well, whatever it is," said the Doctor, "you have lost it!"
"Are you sure of that?" asked Morris; "are you sure your daughter will give me up?"
"I mean, of course, you have lost it as far as I am concerned. As for Catherine's giving you up--no, I am not sure of it. But as I shall strongly recommend it, as I have a great fund of respect and affection in my daughter's mind to draw upon, and as she has the sentiment of duty developed in a very high degree, I think it extremely possible."
Morris Townsend began to smooth his hat again. "I too have a fund of affection to draw upon!" he observed at last.
The Doctor at this point showed his own first symptoms of irritation. "Do you mean to defy me?"
"Call it what you please, sir! I mean not to give your daughter up."
The Doctor shook his head. "I haven't the least fear of your pining away your life. You are made to enjoy it."
Morris gave a laugh. "Your opposition to my marriage is all the more cruel, then! Do you intend to forbid your daughter to see me again?"
"She is past the age at which people are forbidden, and I am not a father in an old-fashioned novel. But I shall strongly urge her to break with you."
"I don't think she will," said Morris Townsend.
"Perhaps not. But I shall have done what I could."
"She has gone too far," Morris went on.
"To retreat? Then let her stop where she is."
"Too far to stop, I mean."
The Doctor looked at him a moment; Morris had his hand on the door. "There is a great deal of impertinence in your saying it."
"I will say no more, sir!" Morris answered; and, making his bow, he left the room.
It may be thought the Doctor was too positive, and Mrs. Almond intimated as much. But, as he said, he had his impression; it seemed to him sufficient, and he had no wish to modify it. He had passed his life in estimating people (it was part of the medical trade), and in nineteen cases out of twenty he was right.
"Perhaps Mr. Townsend is the twentieth case," Mrs. Almond suggested.
"Perhaps he is, though he doesn't look to me at all like a twentieth case. But I will give him the benefit of the doubt, and, to make sure, I will go and talk with Mrs. Montgomery. She will almost certainly tell me I have done right; but it is just possible that she will prove to me that I have made the greatest mistake of my life. If she does, I will beg Mr. Townsend's pardon. You needn't invite her to meet me, as you kindly proposed; I will write her a frank letter, telling her how matters stand, and asking leave to come and see her."
"I am afraid the frankness will be chiefly on your side. The poor little woman will stand up for her brother, whatever he may be."
"Whatever he may be? I doubt that. People are not always so fond of their brothers."
"Ah," said Mrs. Almond, "when it's a question of thirty thousand a year coming into a family--"
"If she stands up for him on account of the money, she will be a humbug. If she is a humbug I shall see it. If I see it, I won't waste time with her."
"She is not a humbug--she is an exemplary woman. She will not wish to play her brother a trick simply because he is selfish."
"If she is worth talking to, she will sooner play him a trick than that he should play Catherine one. Has she seen Catherine, by the way--does she know her?"
"Not to my knowledge. Mr. Townsend can have had no particular interest in bringing them together."
"If she is an exemplary woman, no. But we shall see to what extent she answers your description."
"I shall be curious to hear her description of you!" said Mrs. Almond, with a laugh. "And, meanwhile, how is Catherine taking it?"
"As she takes everything--as a matter of course."
"Doesn't she make a noise? Hasn't she made a scene?"
"She is not scenic."
"I thought a love-lorn maiden was always scenic."
"A fantastic widow is more so. Lavinia has made me a speech; she thinks me very arbitrary."
"She has a talent for being in the wrong," said Mrs. Almond. "But I am very sorry for Catherine, all the same."
"So am I. But she will get over it."
"You believe she will give him up?"
"I count upon it. She has such an admiration for her father."
"Oh, we know all about that! But it only makes me pity her the more. It makes her dilemma the more painful, and the effort of choosing between you and her lover almost impossible."
"If she can't choose, all the better."
"Yes, but he will stand there entreating her to choose, and Lavinia will pull on that side."
"I am glad she is not on my side; she is capable of ruining an excellent cause. The day Lavinia gets into your boat it capsizes. But she had better be careful," said the Doctor. "I will have no treason in my house!"
"I suspect she will be careful; for she is at bottom very much afraid of you."
"They are both afraid of me--harmless as I am!" the Doctor answered. "And it is on that that I build--on the salutary terror I inspire!"
He wrote his frank letter to Mrs. Montgomery, who punctually answered it, mentioning an hour at which he might present himself in the Second Avenue. She lived in a neat little house of red brick, which had been freshly painted, with the edges of the bricks very sharply marked out in white. It has now disappeared, with its companions, to make room for a row of structures more majestic. There were green shutters upon the windows, without slats, but pierced with little holes, arranged in groups; and before the house was a diminutive yard, ornamented with a bush of mysterious character, and surrounded by a low wooden paling, painted in the same green as the shutters. The place looked like a magnified baby-house, and might have been taken down from a shelf in a toy-shop. Dr. Sloper, when he went to call, said to himself, as he glanced at the objects I have enumerated, that Mrs. Montgomery was evidently a thrifty and self- respecting little person--the modest proportions of her dwelling seemed to indicate that she was of small stature--who took a virtuous satisfaction in keeping herself tidy, and had resolved that, since she might not be splendid, she would at least be immaculate. She received him in a little parlour, which was precisely the parlour he had expected: a small unspeckled bower, ornamented with a desultory foliage of tissue-paper, and with clusters of glass drops, amid which--to carry out the analogy--the temperature of the leafy season was maintained by means of a cast-iron stove, emitting a dry blue flame, and smelling strongly of varnish. The walls were embellished with engravings swathed in pink gauze, and the tables ornamented with volumes of extracts from the poets, usually bound in black cloth stamped with florid designs in jaundiced gilt. The Doctor had time to take cognisance of these details, for Mrs. Montgomery, whose conduct he pronounced under the circumstances inexcusable, kept him waiting some ten minutes before she appeared. At last, however, she rustled in, smoothing down a stiff poplin dress, with a little frightened flush in a gracefully-rounded cheek.
She was a small, plump, fair woman, with a bright, clear eye, and an extraordinary air of neatness and briskness. But these qualities were evidently combined with an unaffected humility, and the Doctor gave her his esteem as soon as he had looked at her. A brave little person, with lively perceptions, and yet a disbelief in her own talent for social, as distinguished from practical, affairs--this was his rapid mental resume of Mrs. Montgomery, who, as he saw, was flattered by what she regarded as the honour of his visit. Mrs. Montgomery, in her little red house in the Second Avenue, was a person for whom Dr. Sloper was one of the great men, one of the fine gentlemen of New York; and while she fixed her agitated eyes upon him, while she clasped her mittened hands together in her glossy poplin lap, she had the appearance of saying to herself that he quite answered her idea of what a distinguished guest would naturally be. She apologised for being late; but he interrupted her.
"It doesn't matter," he said; "for while I sat here I had time to think over what I wish to say to you, and to make up my mind how to begin."
"Oh, do begin!" murmured Mrs. Montgomery.
"It is not so easy," said the Doctor, smiling. "You will have gathered from my letter that I wish to ask you a few questions, and you may not find it very comfortable to answer them."
"Yes; I have thought what I should say. It is not very easy."
"But you must understand my situation--my state of mind. Your brother wishes to marry my daughter, and I wish to find out what sort of a young man he is. A good way to do so seemed to be to come and ask you; which I have proceeded to do."
Mrs. Montgomery evidently took the situation very seriously; she was in a state of extreme moral concentration. She kept her pretty eyes, which were illumined by a sort of brilliant modesty, attached to his own countenance, and evidently paid the most earnest attention to each of his words. Her expression indicated that she thought his idea of coming to see her a very superior conception, but that she was really afraid to have opinions on strange subjects.
"I am extremely glad to see you," she said, in a tone which seemed to admit, at the same time, that this had nothing to do with the question.
The Doctor took advantage of this admission. "I didn't come to see you for your pleasure; I came to make you say disagreeable things-- and you can't like that. What sort of a gentleman is your brother?"
Mrs. Montgomery's illuminated gaze grew vague, and began to wander. She smiled a little, and for some time made no answer, so that the Doctor at last became impatient. And her answer, when it came, was not satisfactory. "It is difficult to talk about one's brother."
"Not when one is fond of him, and when one has plenty of good to say."
"Yes, even then, when a good deal depends on it," said Mrs. Montgomery.
"Nothing depends on it, for you."
"I mean for--for--" and she hesitated.
"For your brother himself. I see!"
"I mean for Miss Sloper," said Mrs. Montgomery. The Doctor liked this; it had the accent of sincerity. "Exactly; that's the point. If my poor girl should marry your brother, everything--as regards her happiness--would depend on his being a good fellow. She is the best creature in the world, and she could never do him a grain of injury. He, on the other hand, if he should not be all that we desire, might make her very miserable. That is why I want you to throw some light upon his character, you know. Of course you are not bound to do it. My daughter, whom you have never seen, is nothing to you; and I, possibly, am only an indiscreet and impertinent old man. It is perfectly open to you to tell me that my visit is in very bad taste and that I had better go about my business. But I don't think you will do this; because I think we shall interest you, my poor girl and I. I am sure that if you were to see Catherine, she would interest you very much. I don't mean because she is interesting in the usual sense of the word, but because you would feel sorry for her. She is so soft, so simple-minded, she would be such an easy victim! A bad husband would have remarkable facilities for making her miserable; for she would have neither the intelligence nor the resolution to get the better of him, and yet she would have an exaggerated power of suffering. I see," added the Doctor, with his most insinuating, his most professional laugh, "you are already interested!"
"I have been interested from the moment he told me he was engaged," said Mrs. Montgomery.
"Ah! he says that--he calls it an engagement?"
"Oh, he has told me you didn't like it."
"Did he tell you that I don't like HIM?"
"Yes, he told me that too. I said I couldn't help it!" added Mrs. Montgomery.
"Of course you can't. But what you can do is to tell me I am right-- to give me an attestation, as it were." And the Doctor accompanied this remark with another professional smile.
Mrs. Montgomery, however, smiled not at all; it was obvious that she could not take the humorous view of his appeal. "That is a good deal to ask," she said at last.
"There can be no doubt of that; and I must, in conscience, remind you of the advantages a young man marrying my daughter would enjoy. She has an income of ten thousand dollars in her own right, left her by her mother; if she marries a husband I approve, she will come into almost twice as much more at my death."
Mrs. Montgomery listened in great earnestness to this splendid financial statement; she had never heard thousands of dollars so familiarly talked about. She flushed a little with excitement. "Your daughter will be immensely rich," she said softly.
"Precisely--that's the bother of it."
"And if Morris should marry her, he--he--" And she hesitated timidly.
"He would be master of all that money? By no means. He would be master of the ten thousand a year that she has from her mother; but I should leave every penny of my own fortune, earned in the laborious exercise of my profession, to public institutions."
Mrs. Montgomery dropped her eyes at this, and sat for some time gazing at the straw matting which covered her floor.
"I suppose it seems to you," said the Doctor, laughing, "that in so doing I should play your brother a very shabby trick."
"Not at all. That is too much money to get possession of so easily, by marrying. I don't think it would be right."
"It's right to get all one can. But in this case your brother wouldn't be able. If Catherine marries without my consent, she doesn't get a penny from my own pocket."
"Is that certain?" asked Mrs. Montgomery, looking up.
"As certain as that I sit here!"
"Even if she should pine away?"
"Even if she should pine to a shadow, which isn't probable."
"Does Morris know this?"
"I shall be most happy to inform him!" the Doctor exclaimed.
Mrs. Montgomery resumed her meditations, and her visitor, who was prepared to give time to the affair, asked himself whether, in spite of her little conscientious air, she was not playing into her brother's hands. At the same time he was half ashamed of the ordeal to which he had subjected her, and was touched by the gentleness with which she bore it. "If she were a humbug," he said, "she would get angry; unless she be very deep indeed. It is not probable that she is as deep as that."
"What makes you dislike Morris so much?" she presently asked, emerging from her reflexions.
"I don't dislike him in the least as a friend, as a companion. He seems to me a charming fellow, and I should think he would be excellent company. I dislike him, exclusively, as a son-in-law. If the only office of a son-in-law were to dine at the paternal table, I should set a high value upon your brother. He dines capitally. But that is a small part of his function, which, in general, is to be a protector and caretaker of my child, who is singularly ill-adapted to take care of herself. It is there that he doesn't satisfy me. I confess I have nothing but my impression to go by; but I am in the habit of trusting my impression. Of course you are at liberty to contradict it flat. He strikes me as selfish and shallow."
Mrs. Montgomery's eyes expanded a little, and the Doctor fancied he saw the light of admiration in them. "I wonder you have discovered he is selfish!" she exclaimed.
"Do you think he hides it so well?"
"Very well indeed," said Mrs. Montgomery. "And I think we are all rather selfish," she added quickly.
"I think so too; but I have seen people hide it better than he. You see I am helped by a habit I have of dividing people into classes, into types. I may easily be mistaken about your brother as an individual, but his type is written on his whole person."
"He is very good-looking," said Mrs. Montgomery.
The Doctor eyed her a moment. "You women are all the same! But the type to which your brother belongs was made to be the ruin of you, and you were made to be its handmaids and victims. The sign of the type in question is the determination--sometimes terrible in its quiet intensity--to accept nothing of life but its pleasures, and to secure these pleasures chiefly by the aid of your complaisant sex. Young men of this class never do anything for themselves that they can get other people to do for them, and it is the infatuation, the devotion, the superstition of others that keeps them going. These others in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred are women. What our young friends chiefly insist upon is that some one else shall suffer for them; and women do that sort of thing, as you must know, wonderfully well." The Doctor paused a moment, and then he added abruptly, "You have suffered immensely for your brother!"
This exclamation was abrupt, as I say, but it was also perfectly calculated. The Doctor had been rather disappointed at not finding his compact and comfortable little hostess surrounded in a more visible degree by the ravages of Morris Townsend's immorality; but he had said to himself that this was not because the young man had spared her, but because she had contrived to plaster up her wounds. They were aching there, behind the varnished stove, the festooned engravings, beneath her own neat little poplin bosom; and if he could only touch the tender spot, she would make a movement that would betray her. The words I have just quoted were an attempt to put his finger suddenly upon the place; and they had some of the success that he looked for. The tears sprang for a moment to Mrs. Montgomery's eyes, and she indulged in a proud little jerk of the head.
"I don't know how you have found that out!" she exclaimed.
"By a philosophic trick--by what they call induction. You know you have always your option of contradicting me. But kindly answer me a question. Don't you give your brother money? I think you ought to answer that."
"Yes, I have given him money," said Mrs. Montgomery.
"And you have not had much to give him?"
She was silent a moment. "If you ask me for a confession of poverty, that is easily made. I am very poor."
"One would never suppose it from your--your charming house," said the Doctor. "I learned from my sister that your income was moderate, and your family numerous."
"I have five children," Mrs. Montgomery observed; "but I am happy to say I can bring them up decently."
"Of course you can--accomplished and devoted as you are! But your brother has counted them over, I suppose?"
"Counted them over?"
"He knows there are five, I mean. He tells me it is he that brings them up."
Mrs. Montgomery stared a moment, and then quickly--"Oh yes; he teaches them Spanish."
The Doctor laughed out. "That must take a great deal off your hands! Your brother also knows, of course, that you have very little money."
"I have often told him so!" Mrs. Montgomery exclaimed, more unreservedly than she had yet spoken. She was apparently taking some comfort in the Doctor's clairvoyancy.
"Which means that you have often occasion to, and that he often sponges on you. Excuse the crudity of my language; I simply express a fact. I don't ask you how much of your money he has had, it is none of my business. I have ascertained what I suspected--what I wished." And the Doctor got up, gently smoothing his hat. "Your brother lives on you," he said as he stood there.
Mrs. Montgomery quickly rose from her chair, following her visitor's movements with a look of fascination. But then, with a certain inconsequence--"I have never complained of him!" she said.
"You needn't protest--you have not betrayed him. But I advise you not to give him any more money."
"Don't you see it is in my interest that he should marry a rich person?" she asked. "If, as you say, he lives on me, I can only wish to get rid of him, and to put obstacles in the way of his marrying is to increase my own difficulties."
"I wish very much you would come to me with your difficulties," said the Doctor. "Certainly, if I throw him back on your hands, the least I can do is to help you to bear the burden. If you will allow me to say so, then, I shall take the liberty of placing in your hands, for the present, a certain fund for your brother's support."
Mrs. Montgomery stared; she evidently thought he was jesting; but she presently saw that he was not, and the complication of her feelings became painful. "It seems to me that I ought to be very much offended with you," she murmured.
"Because I have offered you money? That's a superstition," said the Doctor. "You must let me come and see you again, and we will talk about these things. I suppose that some of your children are girls."
"I have two little girls," said Mrs. Montgomery.
"Well, when they grow up, and begin to think of taking husbands, you will see how anxious you will be about the moral character of these gentlemen. Then you will understand this visit of mine!"
"Ah, you are not to believe that Morris's moral character is bad!"
The Doctor looked at her a little, with folded arms. "There is something I should greatly like--as a moral satisfaction. I should like to hear you say--'He is abominably selfish!'"
The words came out with the grave distinctness of his voice, and they seemed for an instant to create, to poor Mrs. Montgomery's troubled vision, a material image. She gazed at it an instant, and then she turned away. "You distress me, sir!" she exclaimed. "He is, after all, my brother, and his talents, his talents--" On these last words her voice quavered, and before he knew it she had burst into tears.
"His talents are first-rate!" said the Doctor. "We must find a proper field for them!" And he assured her most respectfully of his regret at having so greatly discomposed her. "It's all for my poor Catherine," he went on. "You must know her, and you will see."
Mrs. Montgomery brushed away her tears, and blushed at having shed them. "I should like to know your daughter," she answered; and then, in an instant--"Don't let her marry him!"
Dr. Sloper went away with the words gently humming in his ears-- "Don't let her marry him!" They gave him the moral satisfaction of which he had just spoken, and their value was the greater that they had evidently cost a pang to poor little Mrs. Montgomery's family pride.
He had been puzzled by the way that Catherine carried herself; her attitude at this sentimental crisis seemed to him unnaturally passive. She had not spoken to him again after that scene in the library, the day before his interview with Morris; and a week had elapsed without making any change in her manner. There was nothing in it that appealed for pity, and he was even a little disappointed at her not giving him an opportunity to make up for his harshness by some manifestation of liberality which should operate as a compensation. He thought a little of offering to take her for a tour in Europe; but he was determined to do this only in case she should seem mutely to reproach him. He had an idea that she would display a talent for mute reproaches, and he was surprised at not finding himself exposed to these silent batteries. She said nothing, either tacitly or explicitly, and as she was never very talkative, there was now no especial eloquence in her reserve. And poor Catherine was not sulky--a style of behaviour for which she had too little histrionic talent; she was simply very patient. Of course she was thinking over her situation, and she was apparently doing so in a deliberate and unimpassioned manner, with a view of making the best of it.
"She will do as I have bidden her," said the Doctor, and he made the further reflexion that his daughter was not a woman of a great spirit. I know not whether he had hoped for a little more resistance for the sake of a little more entertainment; but he said to himself, as he had said before, that though it might have its momentary alarms, paternity was, after all, not an exciting vocation.
Catherine, meanwhile, had made a discovery of a very different sort; it had become vivid to her that there was a great excitement in trying to be a good daughter. She had an entirely new feeling, which may be described as a state of expectant suspense about her own actions. She watched herself as she would have watched another person, and wondered what she would do. It was as if this other person, who was both herself and not herself, had suddenly sprung into being, inspiring her with a natural curiosity as to the performance of untested functions.
"I am glad I have such a good daughter," said her father, kissing her, after the lapse of several days.
"I am trying to be good," she answered, turning away, with a conscience not altogether clear.
"If there is anything you would like to say to me, you know you must not hesitate. You needn't feel obliged to be so quiet. I shouldn't care that Mr. Townsend should be a frequent topic of conversation, but whenever you have anything particular to say about him I shall be very glad to hear it."
"Thank you," said Catherine; "I have nothing particular at present."
He never asked her whether she had seen Morris again, because he was sure that if this had been the case she would tell him. She had, in fact, not seen him, she had only written him a long letter. The letter at least was long for her; and, it may be added, that it was long for Morris; it consisted of five pages, in a remarkably neat and handsome hand. Catherine's handwriting was beautiful, and she was even a little proud of it; she was extremely fond of copying, and possessed volumes of extracts which testified to this accomplishment; volumes which she had exhibited one day to her lover, when the bliss of feeling that she was important in his eyes was exceptionally keen. She told Morris in writing that her father had expressed the wish that she should not see him again, and that she begged he would not come to the house until she should have "made up her mind." Morris replied with a passionate epistle, in which he asked to what, in Heaven's name, she wished to make up her mind. Had not her mind been made up two weeks before, and could it be possible that she entertained the idea of throwing him off? Did she mean to break down at the very beginning of their ordeal, after all the promises of fidelity she had both given and extracted? And he gave an account of his own interview with her father--an account not identical at all points with that offered in these pages. "He was terribly violent," Morris wrote; "but you know my self-control. I have need of it all when I remember that I have it in my power to break in upon your cruel captivity." Catherine sent him, in answer to this, a note of three lines. "I am in great trouble; do not doubt of my affection, but let me wait a little and think." The idea of a struggle with her father, of setting up her will against his own, was heavy on her soul, and it kept her formally submissive, as a great physical weight keeps us motionless. It never entered into her mind to throw her lover off; but from the first she tried to assure herself that there would be a peaceful way out of their difficulty. The assurance was vague, for it contained no element of positive conviction that her father would change his mind. She only had an idea that if she should be very good, the situation would in some mysterious manner improve. To be good, she must be patient, respectful, abstain from judging her father too harshly, and from committing any act of open defiance. He was perhaps right, after all, to think as he did; by which Catherine meant not in the least that his judgement of Morris's motives in seeking to marry her was perhaps a just one, but that it was probably natural and proper that conscientious parents should be suspicious and even unjust. There were probably people in the world as bad as her father supposed Morris to be, and if there were the slightest chance of Morris being one of these sinister persons, the Doctor was right in taking it into account. Of course he could not know what she knew, how the purest love and truth were seated in the young man's eyes; but Heaven, in its time, might appoint a way of bringing him to such knowledge. Catherine expected a good deal of Heaven, and referred to the skies the initiative, as the French say, in dealing with her dilemma. She could not imagine herself imparting any kind of knowledge to her father, there was something superior even in his injustice and absolute in his mistakes. But she could at least be good, and if she were only good enough, Heaven would invent some way of reconciling all things--the dignity of her father's errors and the sweetness of her own confidence, the strict performance of her filial duties and the enjoyment of Morris Townsend's affection. Poor Catherine would have been glad to regard Mrs. Penniman as an illuminating agent, a part which this lady herself indeed was but imperfectly prepared to play. Mrs. Penniman took too much satisfaction in the sentimental shadows of this little drama to have, for the moment, any great interest in dissipating them. She wished the plot to thicken, and the advice that she gave her niece tended, in her own imagination, to produce this result. It was rather incoherent counsel, and from one day to another it contradicted itself; but it was pervaded by an earnest desire that Catherine should do something striking. "You must ACT, my dear; in your situation the great thing is to act," said Mrs. Penniman, who found her niece altogether beneath her opportunities. Mrs. Penniman's real hope was that the girl would make a secret marriage, at which she should officiate as brideswoman or duenna. She had a vision of this ceremony being performed in some subterranean chapel-- subterranean chapels in New York were not frequent, but Mrs. Penniman's imagination was not chilled by trifles--and of the guilty couple--she liked to think of poor Catherine and her suitor as the guilty couple--being shuffled away in a fast-whirling vehicle to some obscure lodging in the suburbs, where she would pay them (in a thick veil) clandestine visits, where they would endure a period of romantic privation, and where ultimately, after she should have been their earthly providence, their intercessor, their advocate, and their medium of communication with the world, they should be reconciled to her brother in an artistic tableau, in which she herself should be somehow the central figure. She hesitated as yet to recommend this course to Catherine, but she attempted to draw an attractive picture of it to Morris Townsend. She was in daily communication with the young man, whom she kept informed by letters of the state of affairs in Washington Square. As he had been banished, as she said, from the house, she no longer saw him; but she ended by writing to him that she longed for an interview. This interview could take place only on neutral ground, and she bethought herself greatly before selecting a place of meeting. She had an inclination for Greenwood Cemetery, but she gave it up as too distant; she could not absent herself for so long, as she said, without exciting suspicion. Then she thought of the Battery, but that was rather cold and windy, besides one's being exposed to intrusion from the Irish emigrants who at this point alight, with large appetites, in the New World and at last she fixed upon an oyster saloon in the Seventh Avenue, kept by a negro--an establishment of which she knew nothing save that she had noticed it in passing. She made an appointment with Morris Townsend to meet him there, and she went to the tryst at dusk, enveloped in an impenetrable veil. He kept her waiting for half an hour--he had almost the whole width of the city to traverse--but she liked to wait, it seemed to intensify the situation. She ordered a cup of tea, which proved excessively bad, and this gave her a sense that she was suffering in a romantic cause. When Morris at last arrived, they sat together for half an hour in the duskiest corner of a back shop; and it is hardly too much to say that this was the happiest half-hour that Mrs. Penniman had known for years. The situation was really thrilling, and it scarcely seemed to her a false note when her companion asked for an oyster stew, and proceeded to consume it before her eyes. Morris, indeed, needed all the satisfaction that stewed oysters could give him, for it may be intimated to the reader that he regarded Mrs. Penniman in the light of a fifth wheel to his coach. He was in a state of irritation natural to a gentleman of fine parts who had been snubbed in a benevolent attempt to confer a distinction upon a young woman of inferior characteristics, and the insinuating sympathy of this somewhat desiccated matron appeared to offer him no practical relief. He thought her a humbug, and he judged of humbugs with a good deal of confidence. He had listened and made himself agreeable to her at first, in order to get a footing in Washington Square; and at present he needed all his self-command to be decently civil. It would have gratified him to tell her that she was a fantastic old woman, and that he should like to put her into an omnibus and send her home. We know, however, that Morris possessed the virtue of self-control, and he had, moreover, the constant habit of seeking to be agreeable; so that, although Mrs. Penniman's demeanour only exasperated his already unquiet nerves, he listened to her with a sombre deference in which she found much to admire.