Catherine gives herself over to her grief; “it seemed to her that a mask had suddenly fallen” from Morris’s face. Nevertheless, she maintains her composure in front of the household, and she coldly refuses Aunt Penniman’s offers of explanation and help. Eventually Aunt Penniman bursts in on Catherine at an unexpected moment and tells her niece that she must be resigned to Morris’s “change of plans.” Catherine begs to know where Morris has gone, as he seems to have left town.
In light of these latest developments, Catherine finally sees Morris for what he really is—a flighty and unreliable coward who was preoccupied with her inheritance, not her well-being—and she is heartbroken. She no longer trusts Aunt Penniman, but she’s desperate to know where Morris has gone, and Aunt Penniman can’t long resist the temptation to be involved in Catherine’s affairs.
When Aunt Penniman mentions something about a “separation,” Catherine suddenly realizes the full extent of her aunt’s “meddlesome folly,” and she unleashes her anger on Lavinia for coming between herself and Morris and spoiling everything. Not wanting to stay angry forever, she finally listens to her startled aunt’s explanations that Morris lacks the courage to hurt her and has only broken things off “for the present.”
While it’s difficult to guess whether Morris would have proven a more faithful suitor without Aunt Penniman’s interference, it’s also hard not to see Catherine’s cathartic outburst as justified. Aunt Penniman tries to cast Morris in the best possible light, again showing how much she’s come to identify with him over her own niece.