When Aunt Penniman meets with Morris again, Morris says that, in light of Dr. Sloper’s immovable attitude, he must “know when he is beaten” and give Catherine up. Aunt Penniman is not shocked, as she had already concluded that Morris must not marry Catherine without the inheritance. She reasons that if Morris had actually been her son, she would have wanted him to “find something better.”
Given his anticlimactic response, it seems that Morris has had little intention of still marrying Catherine, but has been hanging around the Slopers anyway in order to gain what he can from them in the meantime. Aunt Penniman has come to identify so strongly with Morris’s side of things that she sympathizes more with his dilemma than with Catherine’s prolonged suffering.
Morris, however, is ashamed. He asks Aunt Penniman to let Catherine down easily, explaining that he’s acting this way because he can’t bear to step between her and Dr. Sloper. Aunt Penniman urges him nevertheless to come back for a last parting, though Morris is resistant because “a woman should never keep a man dangling.”
Morris at least has enough grace to realize he’s acting poorly, though he’s too cowardly to tell Catherine he’s jilting her himself. The irony of his comment is that he is the one who’s been leaving Catherine “dangling” all this time.