A week later, Aunt Penniman again asks if Catherine is willing to see Morris. Though Catherine has long since forgiven her aunt’s meddling, she now “[senses] that her companion was a dangerous woman.” Though Aunt Penniman insists that Morris’s happiness depends on seeing her, Catherine retorts, “My happiness does not.” She has no interest in whatever Morris wishes to say to her and would rather be left alone.
Catherine senses that her aunt still has the ability to shake up circumstances in an unwelcome way. Nowadays, Catherine is far more prepared to shut down such meddling at the source, and she knows exactly what she wants.
Just then, the doorbell rings, and before Catherine can leave the room, Morris Townsend is announced. When Catherine finally turns to look at him, she is shocked; she would never have recognized the 45-year-old Morris. He is deferential and awkward, struggling for words. Yet Catherine offers him no help; she can tell that Morris “had made himself comfortable, and he had never been caught.”
Aunt Penniman has meddled once again, presuming to manufacture a meeting between Catherine and Morris some 20 years later. Catherine sees that Morris has never failed to secure comforts for himself over all these years, and that, in contrast to her pain, it’s cost him nothing.
Morris asks if they can be friends again and says that he has never ceased to think of Catherine. Catherine tells him that although she’s forgiven him, she will not consent to be friends again; he hurt her too badly. She asks him to leave. Morris doesn’t understand why she’s remained unmarried, given that she had nothing to gain, and had hoped they might forget the past and still have a future together. Finally he leaves, speaking snidely of Aunt Penniman’s “precious plan.” Meanwhile, Catherine picks up her sewing again and “seat[s] herself with it […] for life, as it were.”
Morris shows that, however genuine his feelings for Catherine might be, he still doesn’t understand the magnitude of suffering he caused her. His statement about marriage is ironic and revealing; he looks at marriage in terms of what can be “gained,” which has always been the opposite of Catherine’s view. It’s obvious that Aunt Penniman had a strong hand in this meeting, having hoped to orchestrate romance for a final time. But, in contrast to those around her, Catherine is content with her life and intends to go on as she has always done.