فصل 05

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فصل 05

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Doctor Sloper decides

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 on his door. On entering the room, she found him in his chair beside the fire, with a cigar and the evening paper.

‘I have something to say to you,’ she began very gently.

‘I shall be happy to hear it, my dear,’ said her father. He waited, looking at her, while she stared silently at the fire.

‘I am engaged to be married!’ Catherine said at last.

The Doctor did not show how surprised he was. ‘You are right to tell me,’ he said. ‘And who is the happy man?’

‘Mr Morris Townsend.’ As she said her lover’s name, Catherine looked at him. Then she looked back at the fire. ‘When did this happen?’ the Doctor asked.

‘This afternoon - two hours ago.’

‘Was Mr Townsend here?’

‘Yes, father, in the front parlour.’ She was very glad that she did not have to tell him her engagement had taken place in the garden of the Square.

Her father was silent for a moment. ‘Why did Mr Townsend not tell me? It is his duty to speak to me first.’

‘He means to tell you tomorrow.’

The Doctor smoked his cigar for a while. ‘You have gone very fast,’ he said, at last.

‘Yes,’ Catherine answered, simply. ‘I think we have.’

Her father looked at her for a moment. ‘I’m not surprised that Mr Townsend likes you. You are so simple and good.’

‘I don’t know why, but he does like me. I am sure of that. And I like him very much.’

‘But you have known him a very short time, my dear.’

‘Oh,’ said Catherine, ‘it doesn’t take long to like a person - once you have begun.’

‘Of course you are no longer a little girl.’

‘I feel very old - and very wise,’ said Catherine, smiling.

‘I am afraid that you will soon feel older and wiser. I don’t like your engagement.’

‘Oh,’ said Catherine, softly, getting up from her chair.

‘No, my dear. I am sorry to give you pain; but I don’t like it. Why didn’t you speak to me first?’

Catherine hesitated a moment. Then she said, ‘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 gently. She remembered Morris’s warning. ‘You think he is only interested in my fortune.’

Doctor Sloper looked up at her, with his cold, reasonable eyes. ‘I am not accusing Mr Townsend of that. You are an honest, kind-hearted girl, and there is nothing impossible in an intelligent young man loving you for yourself. But the main thing that we know about this young man is that he has spent his own fortune in amusing himself. There is good reason to believe that he would spend yours, too.’

‘That is not the only thing we know about him. He is kind, and generous, and true,’ said poor Catherine. She was not used to arguing, and her voice trembled a little. ‘And the fortune he spent was very small.’

The Doctor stood up. He held her for a moment and kissed her. ‘You won’t think me cruel?’ he said.

The question filled Catherine with fear, but she said, ‘No, dear father; because if you knew how I feel, 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 tomorrow. Meanwhile, do not tell anyone you are engaged.’

The next afternoon the Doctor stayed at home, waiting for Morris Townsend’s visit. When the young man arrived, Doctor Sloper began at once.

‘Catherine told me yesterday what has been going on between you,’ he said. ‘I am very surprised. It was only the other day that you first met my daughter.’

‘It was not long ago, certainly,’ said Morris. ‘My interest in Miss Sloper began the first time I saw her.’

‘Did it not start before you met her?’ the Doctor asked.

Morris looked at him. ‘I had certainly already heard that she was a charming girl.’

‘Naturally, you will speak well of her,’ said the Doctor. ‘But that is not the only thing that is necessary. I told Catherine yesterday that I did not like her engagement.’

‘She told me, and I was very sorry to hear it. I am greatly disappointed,’ said Morris, looking at the floor.

‘Did you really expect me to say I was delighted?’

‘Oh no! I had an idea you didn’t like me.’

‘What gave you that idea?’

‘The fact that I am poor.’

‘It is certainly a fact I must consider,’ said the Doctor. ‘I do not dislike you, but you do not appear to be a suitable husband for my daughter, who is a weak young woman with a large fortune.’

Morris listened politely. ‘I don’t think Miss Sloper is a weak woman,’ he said.

‘I have known my child twenty years, and you have known her six weeks. But whether she is weak or not, you are still a man without a profession, and without money.’

‘Yes, that is my weakness! You think I only want your daughter’s money.’

‘I don’t say that. I only say that you are the wrong kind of man to marry my daughter.’

‘A man who loves and admires her deeply - is that the wrong kind of man?’ Morris said, with his handsome smile. ‘I don’t care about her fortune. Not in any way.’

‘Fine words,’ said the Doctor; but you are still the wrong kind of man.’

‘You think I would spend her money - is that it?’

‘Yes, I’m afraid I do think that.’

‘It is true that I was foolish when I was younger,’ said Morris, but I have changed now. I spent my own fortune, because it was my own. That does not mean I would spend Miss Sloper’s fortune. I would take good care of it.’

‘Taking too much care would be as bad as taking too little. Both ways would give Catherine an unhappy life.’

‘I think you are very unjust!’ said the young man.

‘I can understand that you think that.’

‘Do you want to make your daughter miserable?’

‘I accept that she will think I am cruel for a year.’

‘A year!’ said Morris, with a laugh.

‘For a lifetime, then. She will be miserable either way - with you or without you.’

Here at last Morris became angry. ‘You are not polite, sir!’ he cried.

‘I’m afraid that is your fault - you argue too much. I cannot accept you as a son-in-law, and I shall advise Catherine to give you up, which she will do.’

‘Are you sure that she will give me up?’ asked Morris. ‘I don’t think she will. She has gone too far… to stop.’

The Doctor stared at him coldly for a moment.

‘I will say no more, sir,’ said Morris, and he left the room.

When the Doctor told Mrs Almond about his meeting with Morris Townsend, she thought that he had perhaps been too hard on the young man.

‘Lavinia thinks I am being very cruel,’ said the Doctor.

‘And how is Catherine taking it?’ said Mrs Almond.

‘Very quietly. There have been no noisy tears, or anything of that kind.’

‘I am very sorry for Catherine,’ Mrs Almond said. ‘Now she will have to choose between her father and her lover.’

‘I am sorry for her too,’ said the Doctor. ‘It is just possible, of course, that I have made the greatest mistake of my life. So I shall go and visit Mr Townsend’s sister, who will almost certainly tell me I have done the right thing.’

The visit was arranged for a few days later, and at the appointed time the Doctor arrived at a little house on Second Avenue, where Mrs Montgomery received him in a small front parlour.

She was a little woman, with fair hair, and seemed rather alarmed by a visit from such a fine gentleman as Doctor Sloper. He explained the situation, but Mrs Montgomery was at first a little unwilling to talk about her brother.

‘I can understand,’ said the Doctor, ‘that it is difficult for you to say unpleasant things about your own brother, but if my daughter married him, her happiness would depend on whether he was a good man or not.’

‘Yes, I see that,’ murmured Mrs Montgomery.

‘And I must remind you,’ said the Doctor, ‘that after my death Catherine will have thirty thousand dollars a year.’

Mrs Montgomery listened with wide eyes. ‘Your daughter will be very rich,’ she said, softly.

‘Exactly. But if Catherine marries without my consent, she will have only the ten thousand dollars she inherited from her mother. She won’t get a penny from me. I will be happy to inform Mr Townsend of that.’

Mrs Montgomery thought for a while. ‘Why do you dislike Morris so much?’ she asked at last, looking up.

‘I don’t dislike him - he is a charming young man. But I dislike him as a son-in-law, who must take care of my daughter. She is so soft, so weak. A bad husband could make her very miserable indeed, because she is not clever enough or strong enough to fight her own battles. That is why I have come to you. You may not agree with me, of course; you may want to tell me to go away, but I think that your brother is selfish and lazy, and I should like to know if I am right.’

She looked at him in surprise. ‘But how did you find out that he was selfish?’ she said. ‘He hides it so well.’ Then she turned her head away, and the Doctor saw tears in her eyes.

He waited for a moment, then said suddenly, ‘Your brother has made you very unhappy, hasn’t he? Tell me, do you give him money?’

‘Yes, I have given him money,’ said Mrs Montgomery.

‘And you have very little money yourself, and also five children to take care of, I believe.’

‘It is true that I am very poor,’ she said.

‘Your brother tells me,’ said the Doctor, ‘that he helps you with your children - he is their teacher.’

Mrs Montgomery stared for a moment, then said quickly, ‘Oh yes; he teaches them - Spanish.’

The Doctor laughed. ‘That must be a great help to you! So,’ he went on, ‘I see that I was right. Your brother lives on you, takes your money, and is extremely selfish.’

There were tears again in Mrs Montgomery’s eyes. ‘But he is still my brother,’ she said, her voice trembling a little. ‘You must not believe that his character is bad.’

The Doctor spoke more gently. ‘I am sorry that I have upset you. It’s all for my poor Catherine. You must know her, and then you will see.’ He stood up to go.

Mrs Montgomery also stood up. ‘I should like to know your daughter,’ she answered; and then, very suddenly - ‘Don’t let her marry him!’

And Doctor Sloper went away with these words ringing in his ears.

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