Washington Square, by Henry James

Chapter 26

If she had disturbed her niece’s temper — she began from this moment forward to talk a good deal about Catherine’s temper, an article which up to that time had never been mentioned in connexion with our heroine — Catherine had opportunity, on the morrow, to recover her serenity. Mrs. Penniman had given her a message from Morris Townsend, to the effect that he would come and welcome her home on the day after her arrival. He came in the afternoon; but, as may be imagined, he was not on this occasion made free of Dr. Sloper’s study. He had been coming and going, for the past year, so comfortably and irresponsibly, that he had a certain sense of being wronged by finding himself reminded that he must now limit his horizon to the front parlour, which was Catherine’s particular province.

“I am very glad you have come back,” he said; “it makes me very happy to see you again.” And he looked at her, smiling, from head to foot; though it did not appear, afterwards, that he agreed with Mrs. Penniman (who, womanlike, went more into details) in thinking her embellished.

To Catherine he appeared resplendent; it was some time before she could believe again that this beautiful young man was her own exclusive property. They had a great deal of characteristic lovers’ talk — a soft exchange of inquiries and assurances. In these matters Morris had an excellent grace, which flung a picturesque interest even over the account of his debut in the commission business — a subject as to which his companion earnestly questioned him. From time to time he got up from the sofa where they sat together, and walked about the room; after which he came back, smiling and passing his hand through his hair. He was unquiet, as was natural in a young man who has just been reunited to a long-absent mistress, and Catherine made the reflexion that she had never seen him so excited. It gave her pleasure, somehow, to note this fact. He asked her questions about her travels, to some of which she was unable to reply, for she had forgotten the names of places, and the order of her father’s journey. But for the moment she was so happy, so lifted up by the belief that her troubles at last were over, that she forgot to be ashamed of her meagre answers. It seemed to her now that she could marry him without the remnant of a scruple or a single tremor save those that belonged to joy. Without waiting for him to ask, she told him that her father had come back in exactly the same state of mind — that he had not yielded an inch.

“We must not expect it now,” she said, “and we must do without it.”

Morris sat looking and smiling. “My poor dear girl!” he exclaimed.

“You mustn’t pity me,” said Catherine; “I don’t mind it now — I am used to it.”

Morris continued to smile, and then he got up and walked about again. “You had better let me try him!”

“Try to bring him over? You would only make him worse,” Catherine answered resolutely.

“You say that because I managed it so badly before. But I should manage it differently now. I am much wiser; I have had a year to think of it. I have more tact.”

“Is that what you have been thinking of for a year?”

“Much of the time. You see, the idea sticks in my crop. I don’t like to be beaten.”

“How are you beaten if we marry?”

“Of course, I am not beaten on the main issue; but I am, don’t you see, on all the rest of it — on the question of my reputation, of my relations with your father, of my relations with my own children, if we should have any.”

“We shall have enough for our children — we shall have enough for everything. Don’t you expect to succeed in business?”

“Brilliantly, and we shall certainly be very comfortable. But it isn’t of the mere material comfort I speak; it is of the moral comfort,” said Morris —“of the intellectual satisfaction!”

“I have great moral comfort now,” Catherine declared, very simply.

“Of course you have. But with me it is different. I have staked my pride on proving to your father that he is wrong; and now that I am at the head of a flourishing business, I can deal with him as an equal. I have a capital plan — do let me go at him!”

He stood before her with his bright face, his jaunty air, his hands in his pockets; and she got up, with her eyes resting on his own. “Please don’t, Morris; please don’t,” she said; and there was a certain mild, sad firmness in her tone which he heard for the first time. “We must ask no favours of him — we must ask nothing more. He won’t relent, and nothing good will come of it. I know it now — I have a very good reason.”

“And pray; what is your reason?”

She hesitated to bring it out, but at last it came. “He is not very fond of me!”

“Oh, bother!” cried Morris angrily.

“I wouldn’t say such a thing without being sure. I saw it, I felt it, in England, just before he came away. He talked to me one night — the last night; and then it came over me. You can tell when a person feels that way. I wouldn’t accuse him if he hadn’t made me feel that way. I don’t accuse him; I just tell you that that’s how it is. He can’t help it; we can’t govern our affections. Do I govern mine? mightn’t he say that to me? It’s because he is so fond of my mother, whom we lost so long ago. She was beautiful, and very, very brilliant; he is always thinking of her. I am not at all like her; Aunt Penniman has told me that. Of course, it isn’t my fault; but neither is it his fault. All I mean is, it’s true; and it’s a stronger reason for his never being reconciled than simply his dislike for you.”

“‘Simply?’” cried Morris, with a laugh, “I am much obliged for that!”

“I don’t mind about his disliking you now; I mind everything less. I feel differently; I feel separated from my father.”

“Upon my word,” said Morris, “you are a queer family!”

“Don’t say that — don’t say anything unkind,” the girl entreated. “You must be very kind to me now, because, Morris — because,” and she hesitated a moment —“because I have done a great deal for you.”

“Oh, I know that, my dear!”

She had spoken up to this moment without vehemence or outward sign of emotion, gently, reasoningly, only trying to explain. But her emotion had been ineffectually smothered, and it betrayed itself at last in the trembling of her voice. “It is a great thing to be separated like that from your father, when you have worshipped him before. It has made me very unhappy; or it would have made me so if I didn’t love you. You can tell when a person speaks to you as if — as if —”

“As if what?”

“As if they despised you!” said Catherine passionately. “He spoke that way the night before we sailed. It wasn’t much, but it was enough, and I thought of it on the voyage, all the time. Then I made up my mind. I will never ask him for anything again, or expect anything from him. It would not be natural now. We must be very happy together, and we must not seem to depend upon his forgiveness. And Morris, Morris, you must never despise me!”

This was an easy promise to make, and Morris made it with fine effect. But for the moment he undertook nothing more onerous.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38