فصل 09

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فصل 09

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CHAPTER NINE

Morris returns

No one ever learnt the truth about the end of Catherine’s engagement. Catherine never spoke about it, keeping her secret even from Mrs Almond, who was very kind to her after Morris Townsend had left New York.

‘I am delighted that Catherine did not marry him,’ Mrs Almond said to her brother, but I wish you would be more gentle with her, Austin. Surely you feel sorry for her?’

‘Why should I feel sorry for her? She has had a lucky escape. And I suspect that she has not really given him up at all. I think it is quite possible that they have made an arrangement to wait; and when I am dead, he will come back, and then she will marry him.’

Outwardly, Catherine seemed unchanged, but the fact was that she had been deeply hurt. Nothing could ever take away the pain that Morris had caused her, and nothing could ever make her feel towards her father as she had felt when she was younger.

Many years passed; years in which Catherine received more than a few offers of marriage. She refused them all, and though the name Morris Townsend was never mentioned in Washington Square, Doctor Sloper still suspected that his daughter was secretly waiting for him. ‘If she is not, why doesn’t she marry?’ he asked himself. This idea grew stronger as he got older, and one day the Doctor said something to his daughter that surprised her very much.

‘I would like you to promise me something before I die.’

‘Why do you talk about dying?’ she asked.

‘Because I am sixty-eight years old. And I will die one day. Promise me you will never marry Morris Townsend.’

For some moments she said nothing. ‘Why do you speak of him?’ she asked at last.

‘Because he has been in New York, and at your cousin Marian’s house. Your Aunt Elizabeth tells me that he is looking for another wife - I don’t know what happened to the first one. He has grown fat and bald, and he has not made his fortune.’

‘Fat and bald’; these words sounded strange to Catherine. Her memory was of the most beautiful young man in the world. ‘I don’t think you understand,’ she said. ‘I almost never think of Mr Townsend. But I can’t promise that.’

The Doctor was silent for a minute. ‘I ask you for a particular reason. I am changing my will.’

Very few things made Catherine angry, but these words brought back painful memories from the past. She felt that her father was pushing her too far. ‘I can’t promise,’ she simply repeated. ‘Please explain.’

‘I can’t explain,’ said Catherine, ‘and I can’t promise.’

A year later Doctor Sloper died after a three-week illness. The will he had changed shortly before his death now left Catherine only a fifth of his property. Mrs Penniman thought that this was cruel and unjust, but Catherine was neither surprised nor unhappy about the new will. ‘I like it very much,’ she told her aunt.

Catherine and Mrs Penniman continued to live in the house in Washington Square. On a warm evening in July, a year after Doctor Sloper’s death, the two ladies sat together at an open window, looking out on the quiet square.

‘Catherine,’ said Mrs Penniman. ‘I have something to say that will surprise you. I have seen Morris Townsend.’

Catherine remained very still for some moments. ‘I hope he was well,’ she said at last.

‘I don’t know. He would like very much to see you.’

‘I would rather not see him,’ said Catherine, quickly.

‘I was afraid you would say that,’ said Mrs Penniman. ‘I met him at Marian’s house, and they are so afraid you will meet him there. I think that’s why he goes. He very much wants to see you.’ Catherine did not answer, and Mrs Penniman went on. ‘He is still very handsome, though of course he looks older now. I believe he married some lady somewhere in Europe. She died soon afterwards - as he said to me, she only passed through his life. The first thing he did was to ask me about you. He had heard you had never married; he seemed very much interested about that. He said you had been the real romance in his life.’

Catherine had listened silently, staring down at the ground. At last she spoke, ‘Please do not say more.’

‘But he very much wants to see you.’

‘Please don’t. Aunt Lavinia,’ said Catherine, getting up from her seat and moving quickly to the other window, where Mrs Penniman could not see that she was crying.

A week later they were again sitting in the front parlour. Catherine was working on some embroidery when Mrs Penniman suddenly said, ‘Morris has sent you a message. He wishes to see you, Catherine. He is going away again, and wants to speak to you before he leaves. He says his happiness depends upon it.’

‘My happiness does not,’ said Catherine.

‘He believes that you have never understood him, that you have never judged him rightly,’ said Mrs Penniman. ‘This is very painful for him, and he wants just a few minutes to explain. He wishes to meet you as a friend.’

Catherine listened without looking up from her embroidery. Then she said simply, ‘Please say to Mr Townsend that I wish he would leave me alone.’

She had just finished speaking when the door bell rang. Catherine looked up at the clock; it was quarter past nine - a very late hour for visitors. She turned quickly to Mrs Penniman, who was blushing.

‘Aunt Penniman,’ she said, in a way that frightened her companion, ‘what have you done?’

‘My dearest Catherine,’ said Mrs Penniman, avoiding her niece’s eyes, ‘just wait until you see him!’

Catherine had frightened her aunt, but she was also frightened herself and before she could prevent it, the servant had opened the door and announced his name.

‘Mr Morris Townsend.’

Catherine stood with her back turned to the door of the parlour. For some moments she remained still, feeling that he had come in. He had not spoken, however, and at last she turned round. She saw a gentleman standing in the middle of the room, from which her aunt had quietly left.

For a moment she did not recognize him. He was forty-five years old, fatter, with thinning hair and a thick beard.

‘I have come because - I wanted to so much,’ said Morris. It was the old voice, but it did not have the old charm.

‘I think it was wrong of you to come,’ said Catherine.

‘Did Mrs Penniman not give you my message?’

‘She told me something, but I did not understand.’

‘I wish you would let me tell you.’

‘I don’t think it is necessary,’ said Catherine.

‘Not for you, perhaps, but for me.’ He seemed to be coming nearer; Catherine turned away. ‘Can we not be friends again?’ he asked.

‘We are not enemies,’ said Catherine. He moved close to her; she saw his beard, and the eyes above it, looking strange and hard. It was very different from his old - from his young - face. ‘Catherine,’ he murmured, ‘I have never stopped thinking of you.’

‘Please don’t say these things,’ she answered.

He looked at her again silently. ‘It hurts you to see me here. I will go away; but you must allow me to come again.’

‘Please don’t come again,’ she said. ‘It is wrong of you. There is no reason for it. You behaved badly towards me.’

‘That is not true,’ cried Morris. ‘You had your quiet life with your father - I did not want to steal it from you.’

‘Yes; I had that.’

Morris could not say that she also had some of her father’s property, though he knew about Doctor Sloper’s will. ‘Catherine, have you never forgiven me?’

‘I forgave you years ago, but we cannot be friends.’

‘We can if we forget the past. We still have a future.’

‘I can’t forget -1 don’t forget,’ said Catherine. ‘You behaved too badly. I felt it very much; I felt it for years. I can’t begin again - everything is dead and buried. I never expected to see you here again.’

Morris stood looking at her. ‘Why have you never married?’ he asked, suddenly.

‘I didn’t wish to marry.’

‘Yes, you are rich, you are free. Marriage had nothing to offer you.’ He looked around the room for a moment. ‘Well, I had hoped that we could still be friends.’

‘There is no possibility of that,’ said Catherine.

‘Goodbye, then,’ said Morris.

He bowed, and she turned away. She stood there, looking at the ground, for some moments after she had heard him close the door of the room.

In the hall, he found Mrs Penniman.

‘Your plan did not work!’ said Morris, putting on his hat.

‘Is she so hard?’ asked Mrs Penniman.

‘She doesn’t care a button for me,’ said Morris. He stood for a moment, with his hat on. ‘But why, then, has she never married?’

‘Yes - why?’ said Mrs Penniman. ‘But you will not give up - you will come back?’

‘Come back! Certainly not!’ And Morris Townsend walked out of the house, leaving Mrs Penniman staring.

Catherine, meanwhile, in the parlour, picking up her embroidery, had seated herself with it again - for life.

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