Washington square, p.10
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       Washington Square, p.10

           Henry James


  CATHERINE received the young man the next day on the ground she hadchosen—amid the chaste upholstery of a New York drawing-room furnished inthe fashion of fifty years ago. Morris had swallowed his pride and madethe effort necessary to cross the threshold of her too derisive parent—anact of magnanimity which could not fail to render him doubly interesting.

  “We must settle something—we must take a line,” he declared, passing hishand through his hair and giving a glance at the long narrow mirror whichadorned the space between the two windows, and which had at its base alittle gilded bracket covered by a thin slab of white marble, supportingin its turn a backgammon board folded together in the shape of twovolumes, two shining folios inscribed in letters of greenish gilt,_History of England_. If Morris had been pleased to describe the masterof the house as a heartless scoffer, it is because he thought him toomuch on his guard, and this was the easiest way to express his owndissatisfaction—a dissatisfaction which he had made a point of concealingfrom the Doctor. It will probably seem to the reader, however, that theDoctor’s vigilance was by no means excessive, and that these two youngpeople had an open field. Their intimacy was now considerable, and itmay appear that for a shrinking and retiring person our heroine had beenliberal of her favours. The young man, within a few days, had made herlisten to things for which she had not supposed that she was prepared;having a lively foreboding of difficulties, he proceeded to gain as muchground as possible in the present. He remembered that fortune favoursthe brave, and even if he had forgotten it, Mrs. Penniman would haveremembered it for him. Mrs. Penniman delighted of all things in a drama,and she flattered herself that a drama would now be enacted. Combiningas she did the zeal of the prompter with the impatience of the spectator,she had long since done her utmost to pull up the curtain. She tooexpected to figure in the performance—to be the confidante, the Chorus,to speak the epilogue. It may even be said that there were times whenshe lost sight altogether of the modest heroine of the play, in thecontemplation of certain great passages which would naturally occurbetween the hero and herself.

  What Morris had told Catherine at last was simply that he loved her, orrather adored her. Virtually, he had made known as much already—hisvisits had been a series of eloquent intimations of it. But now he hadaffirmed it in lover’s vows, and, as a memorable sign of it, he hadpassed his arm round the girl’s waist and taken a kiss. This happycertitude had come sooner than Catherine expected, and she had regardedit, very naturally, as a priceless treasure. It may even be doubtedwhether she had ever definitely expected to possess it; she had not beenwaiting for it, and she had never said to herself that at a given momentit must come. As I have tried to explain, she was not eager andexacting; she took what was given her from day to day; and if thedelightful custom of her lover’s visits, which yielded her a happiness inwhich confidence and timidity were strangely blended, had suddenly cometo an end, she would not only not have spoken of herself as one of theforsaken, but she would not have thought of herself as one of thedisappointed. After Morris had kissed her, the last time he was withher, as a ripe assurance of his devotion, she begged him to go away, toleave her alone, to let her think. Morris went away, taking another kissfirst. But Catherine’s meditations had lacked a certain coherence. Shefelt his kisses on her lips and on her cheeks for a long time afterwards;the sensation was rather an obstacle than an aid to reflexion. She wouldhave liked to see her situation all clearly before her, to make up hermind what she should do if, as she feared, her father should tell herthat he disapproved of Morris Townsend. But all that she could see withany vividness was that it was terribly strange that anyone shoulddisapprove of him; that there must in that case be some mistake, somemystery, which in a little while would be set at rest. She put offdeciding and choosing; before the vision of a conflict with her fathershe dropped her eyes and sat motionless, holding her breath and waiting.It made her heart beat, it was intensely painful. When Morris kissed herand said these things—that also made her heart beat; but this was worse,and it frightened her. Nevertheless, to-day, when the young man spoke ofsettling something, taking a line, she felt that it was the truth, andshe answered very simply and without hesitating.

  “We must do our duty,” she said; “we must speak to my father. I will doit to-night; you must do it to-morrow.”

  “It is very good of you to do it first,” Morris answered. “The youngman—the happy lover—generally does that. But just as you please!”

  It pleased Catherine to think that she should be brave for his sake, andin her satisfaction she even gave a little smile. “Women have moretact,” she said “they ought to do it first. They are more conciliating;they can persuade better.”

  “You will need all your powers of persuasion. But, after all,” Morrisadded, “you are irresistible.”

  “Please don’t speak that way—and promise me this. To-morrow, when youtalk with father, you will be very gentle and respectful.”

  “As much so as possible,” Morris promised. “It won’t be much use, but Ishall try. I certainly would rather have you easily than have to fightfor you.”

  “Don’t talk about fighting; we shall not fight.”

  “Ah, we must be prepared,” Morris rejoined; “you especially, because foryou it must come hardest. Do you know the first thing your father willsay to you?”

  “No, Morris; please tell me.”

  “He will tell you I am mercenary.”


  “It’s a big word; but it means a low thing. It means that I am afteryour money.”

  “Oh!” murmured Catherine softly.

  The exclamation was so deprecating and touching that Morris indulged inanother little demonstration of affection. “But he will be sure to sayit,” he added.

  “It will be easy to be prepared for that,” Catherine said. “I shallsimply say that he is mistaken—that other men may be that way, but thatyou are not.”

  “You must make a great point of that, for it will be his own greatpoint.”

  Catherine looked at her lover a minute, and then she said, “I shallpersuade him. But I am glad we shall be rich,” she added.

  Morris turned away, looking into the crown of his hat. “No, it’s amisfortune,” he said at last. “It is from that our difficulty willcome.”

  “Well, if it is the worst misfortune, we are not so unhappy. Many peoplewould not think it so bad. I will persuade him, and after that we shallbe very glad we have money.”

  Morris Townsend listened to this robust logic in silence. “I will leavemy defence to you; it’s a charge that a man has to stoop to defendhimself from.”

  Catherine on her side was silent for a while; she was looking at himwhile he looked, with a good deal of fixedness, out of the window.“Morris,” she said abruptly, “are you very sure you love me?”

  He turned round, and in a moment he was bending over her. “My owndearest, can you doubt it?”

  “I have only known it five days,” she said; “but now it seems to me as ifI could never do without it.”

  “You will never be called upon to try!” And he gave a little tender,reassuring laugh. Then, in a moment, he added, “There is something youmust tell me, too.” She had closed her eyes after the last word sheuttered, and kept them closed; and at this she nodded her head, withoutopening them. “You must tell me,” he went on, “that if your father isdead against me, if he absolutely forbids our marriage, you will still befaithful.”

  Catherine opened her eyes, gazing at him, and she could give no betterpromise than what he read there.

  “You will cleave to me?” said Morris. “You know you are your ownmistress—you are of age.”

  “Ah, Morris!” she murmured, for all answer. Or rather not for all; forshe put her hand into his own. He kept it a while, and presently hekissed her again. This is all that need be recorded of theirconversation but Mrs. Penniman, if she had been present, would probablyhave admitted that it w
as as well it had not taken place beside thefountain in Washington Square.

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