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Chapter 14
He wrote his frank letter to Mrs. Montgomery, who punctually answered it,
mentioning an hour at which he might present himself in the Second Avenue.
She lived in a neat little house of red brick, which had been freshly painted, with
the edges of the bricks very sharply marked out in white. It has now disappeared,
with its companions, to make room for a row of structures more majestic. There
were green shutters upon the windows, without slats, but pierced with little holes,
arranged in groups; and before the house was a diminutive yard, ornamented
with a bush of mysterious character, and surrounded by a low wooden paling,
painted in the same green as the shutters. The place looked like a magnified
baby-house, and might have been taken down from a shelf in a toy-shop. Dr.
Sloper, when he went to call, said to himself, as he glanced at the objects I have
enumerated, that Mrs. Montgomery was evidently a thrifty and self- respecting
little person--the modest proportions of her dwelling seemed to indicate that she
was of small stature--who took a virtuous satisfaction in keeping herself tidy, and
had resolved that, since she might not be splendid, she would at least be
immaculate. She received him in a little parlour, which was precisely the parlour
he had expected: a small unspeckled bower, ornamented with a desultory foliage
of tissue-paper, and with clusters of glass drops, amid which--to carry out the
analogy--the temperature of the leafy season was maintained by means of a
cast-iron stove, emitting a dry blue flame, and smelling strongly of varnish. The
walls were embellished with engravings swathed in pink gauze, and the tables
ornamented with volumes of extracts from the poets, usually bound in black cloth
stamped with florid designs in jaundiced gilt. The Doctor had time to take
cognisance of these details, for Mrs. Montgomery, whose conduct he
pronounced under the circumstances inexcusable, kept him waiting some ten
minutes before she appeared. At last, however, she rustled in, smoothing down a
stiff poplin dress, with a little frightened flush in a gracefully-rounded cheek.
She was a small, plump, fair woman, with a bright, clear eye, and an
extraordinary air of neatness and briskness. But these qualities were evidently
combined with an unaffected humility, and the Doctor gave her his esteem as
soon as he had looked at her. A brave little person, with lively perceptions, and
yet a disbelief in her own talent for social, as distinguished from practical, affairs--
this was his rapid mental resume of Mrs. Montgomery, who, as he saw, was
flattered by what she regarded as the honour of his visit. Mrs. Montgomery, in her
little red house in the Second Avenue, was a person for whom Dr. Sloper was
one of the great men, one of the fine gentlemen of New York; and while she fixed
her agitated eyes upon him, while she clasped her mittened hands together in
her glossy poplin lap, she had the appearance of saying to herself that he quite
answered her idea of what a distinguished guest would naturally be. She
apologised for being late; but he interrupted her.
"It doesn't matter," he said; "for while I sat here I had time to think over what I
wish to say to you, and to make up my mind how to begin."
"Oh, do begin!" murmured Mrs. Montgomery.