WASHINGTON SQUARE

第16章

HE WAS, however, by no means so much in earnest as this might seem to indicate; and, indeed, he was more than anything else amused with the whole situation.He was not in the least in a state of tension or of vigilance with regard to Catherine's prospects; he was even on his guard against the ridicule that might attach itself to the spectacle of a house thrown into agitation by its daughter and heiress receiving attentions unprecedented in its annals.More than this, he went so far as to promise himself some entertainment from the little drama- if drama it was- of which Mrs.Penniman desired to represent the ingenious Mr.Townsend as the hero.He had no intention, as yet, of regulating the denouement.He was perfectly willing, as Elizabeth had suggested, to give the young man the benefit of every doubt.There was no great danger in it; for Catherine, at the age of twenty-two, was, after all, a rather mature blossom, such as could be plucked from the stem only by a vigorous jerk.The fact that Morris Townsend was poor, was not of necessity against him; the doctor had never made up his mind that his daughter should marry a rich man.The fortune she would inherit struck him as a very sufficient provision for two reasonable persons, and if a penniless swain who could give a good account of himself should enter the lists, he should be judged quite upon his personal merits.There were other things besides.The doctor thought it very vulgar to be precipitate in accusing people of mercenary motives, inasmuch as his door had as yet not been in the least besieged by fortune hunters; and, lastly, he was very curious to see whether Catherine might really be loved for her moral worth.He smiled as he reflected that poor Mr.Townsend had been only twice to the house, and he said to Mrs.Penniman that the next time he should come she must ask him to dinner.

He came very soon again, and Mrs.Penniman had of course great pleasure in executing this mission.Morris Townsend accepted her invitation with equal good grace, and the dinner took place a few days later.The doctor had said to himself, justly enough, that they must not have the young man alone; this would partake too much of the nature of encouragement.So two or three other persons were invited;but Morris Townsend, though he was by no means the ostensible, was the real occasion of the feast.There is every reason to suppose that he desired to make a good impression; and if he fell short of this result, it was not for want of a good deal of intelligent effort.

The doctor talked to him very little during dinner; but he observed him attentively, and after the ladies had gone out he pushed him the wine and asked him several questions.Morris was not a young man who needed to be pressed, and he found quite enough encouragement in the superior quality of the claret.The doctor's wine was admirable, and it may be communicated to the reader that while he sipped it Morris reflected that a cellarful of good liquor- there was evidently a cellarful here- would be a most attractive idiosyncrasy in a father-in-law.The doctor was struck with his appreciative guest; he saw that he was not a commonplace young man."He has ability," said Catherine's father, "decided ability; he has a very good head if he chooses to use it.And he is uncommonly well turned out; quite the sort of figure that pleases the ladies; but I don't think I like him."The doctor, however, kept his reflections to himself, and talked to his visitor about foreign lands, concerning which Morris offered him more information than he was ready, as he mentally phrased it, to swallow.Doctor Sloper had traveled but little, and he took the liberty of not believing everything that his talkative guest narrated.

Henry James

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