Washington Square, by Henry James

Chapter 13

It may be thought the Doctor was too positive, and Mrs. Almond intimated as much. But, as he said, he had his impression; it seemed to him sufficient, and he had no wish to modify it. He had passed his life in estimating people (it was part of the medical trade), and in nineteen cases out of twenty he was right.

“Perhaps Mr. Townsend is the twentieth case,” Mrs. Almond suggested.

“Perhaps he is, though he doesn’t look to me at all like a twentieth case. But I will give him the benefit of the doubt, and, to make sure, I will go and talk with Mrs. Montgomery. She will almost certainly tell me I have done right; but it is just possible that she will prove to me that I have made the greatest mistake of my life. If she does, I will beg Mr. Townsend’s pardon. You needn’t invite her to meet me, as you kindly proposed; I will write her a frank letter, telling her how matters stand, and asking leave to come and see her.”

“I am afraid the frankness will be chiefly on your side. The poor little woman will stand up for her brother, whatever he may be.”

“Whatever he may be? I doubt that. People are not always so fond of their brothers.”

“Ah,” said Mrs. Almond, “when it’s a question of thirty thousand a year coming into a family —”

“If she stands up for him on account of the money, she will be a humbug. If she is a humbug I shall see it. If I see it, I won’t waste time with her.”

“She is not a humbug — she is an exemplary woman. She will not wish to play her brother a trick simply because he is selfish.”

“If she is worth talking to, she will sooner play him a trick than that he should play Catherine one. Has she seen Catherine, by the way — does she know her?”

“Not to my knowledge. Mr. Townsend can have had no particular interest in bringing them together.”

“If she is an exemplary woman, no. But we shall see to what extent she answers your description.”

“I shall be curious to hear her description of you!” said Mrs. Almond, with a laugh. “And, meanwhile, how is Catherine taking it?”

“As she takes everything — as a matter of course.”

“Doesn’t she make a noise? Hasn’t she made a scene?”

“She is not scenic.”

“I thought a love-lorn maiden was always scenic.”

“A fantastic widow is more so. Lavinia has made me a speech; she thinks me very arbitrary.”

“She has a talent for being in the wrong,” said Mrs. Almond. “But I am very sorry for Catherine, all the same.”

“So am I. But she will get over it.”

“You believe she will give him up?”

“I count upon it. She has such an admiration for her father.”

“Oh, we know all about that! But it only makes me pity her the more. It makes her dilemma the more painful, and the effort of choosing between you and her lover almost impossible.”

“If she can’t choose, all the better.”

“Yes, but he will stand there entreating her to choose, and Lavinia will pull on that side.”

“I am glad she is not on my side; she is capable of ruining an excellent cause. The day Lavinia gets into your boat it capsizes. But she had better be careful,” said the Doctor. “I will have no treason in my house!”

“I suspect she will be careful; for she is at bottom very much afraid of you.”

“They are both afraid of me — harmless as I am!” the Doctor answered. “And it is on that that I build — on the salutary terror I inspire!”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38