Chapter 27

Washington Square - Chapter 27

The Doctor, of course, on his return, had a good deal of talk with his sisters. He was at no great pains to narrate his travels or to communicate his impressions of distant lands to Mrs Penniman, upon whom he contented himself with bestowing a memento of his enviable experience in the shape of a velvet gown. But he conversed with her at some length about matters nearer home, and lost no time in assuring her that he was still an inflexible father.

'I have no doubt you have seen a great deal of Mr Townsend, and done your best to console him for Catherine's absence,' he said.' I don't ask you, and you needn't deny it. I wouldn't put the question to you for the world, and expose you to the inconvenience of having to - a - excogitate an answer. No one has betrayed you, and there has been no spy upon your proceedings. Elizabeth has told no tales, and has never mentioned you except to praise your good looks and good spirits. The thing is simply an inference of my own - an induction, as the philosophers say. It seems to me likely that you would have offered an asylum to an interesting sufferer. Mr Townsend has been a good deal in the house; there is something in the house that tells me so. We doctors, you know, end by acquiring fine perceptions, and it is impressed upon my sensorium that he has sat in these chairs, in a very easy attitude, and warmed himself at that fire. I don't grudge him the comfort of it; it is the only one he will ever enjoy at my expense. It seems likely, indeed, that I shall be able to economize at his own. I don't know what you may have said to him, or what you may say hereafter; but I should like you to know that if you have encouraged him to believe that he will gain anything by hanging on, or that I have budged a hair-breadth from the position I took up a year ago, you have played him a trick for which he may exact reparation. I'm not sure that he may not bring a suit against you. Of course you have done it conscientiously; you have made yourself believe that I can be tired out. This is the most baseless hallucination that ever visited the brain of a genial optimist. I am not in the least tired; I am as fresh as when I started; I am good for fifty years yet. Catherine appears not to have budged an inch either; she is equally fresh; so we are about where we were before. This, however, you know as well as I. What I wish is simply to give you notice of my own state of mind. Take it to heart, dear Lavinia. Beware of the just resentment of a deluded fortune - hunter!'

'I can't say I expected it,' said Mrs Penniman.' And I had a sort of foolish hope that you would come home without the odious ironical tone with which you treat the most sacred subjects.'

'Don't undervalue irony; it is often of great use. It is not, however, always necessary, and I will show you how gracefully I can lay it aside. I should like to know whether' you think Morris Townsend will hang on?'

'I will answer you with your own weapons,' said Mrs Penniman.' You had better wait and see.'

'Do you call such a speech as that one of my own weapons? I never said anything so rough.'

'He will hang on long enough to make you very uncomfortable, then.'

'My dear Lavinia,' exclaimed the Doctor,' do you call that irony? I call it pugilism.'

Mrs Penniman, however, in spite of her pugilism, was a good deal frightened, and she took counsel of her fears. Her brother meanwhile took counsel, with many reservations, of Mrs Almond, to whom he was no less generous than to Lavinia, and a good deal more communicative.

'I suppose she has had him there all the while,' he said.' I must look into the state of my wine. You needn't mind telling me now; I have already said all I mean to say to her on the subject.'

'I believe he was in the house a good deal,' Mrs Almond answered.' But you must admit that your leaving Lavinia quite alone was a great change for her, and that it was natural she should want some society.'

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