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 economise 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's-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 that 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."