Thursday, September 18th, 2014
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c. 1835 / New York City

Henry James Settles an Argument


Catherine sat alone by the parlor fire—sat there for more than an hour, lost in her meditations. She had an immense respect for her father, and she felt that to displease him would be a misdemeanor analogous to an act of profanity in a great temple: but her purpose had slowly ripened, and she believed that her prayers had purified it of its violence. The evening advanced, and the lamp burned dim without her noticing it; her eyes were fixed upon her terrible plan. She knew her father was in his study—that he had been there all the evening; from time to time she expected to hear him move. She thought he would perhaps come, as he sometimes came, into the parlor. At last the clock struck eleven, and the house was wrapped in silence; the servants had gone to bed. Catherine got up and went slowly to the door of the library, where she waited a moment, motionless. Then she knocked, and then she waited again. Her father had answered her, but she had not the courage to turn the latch. She heard him move within, and he came and opened the door for her.

“What is the matter?” asked the doctor. “You are standing there like a ghost.”

She went into the room, but it was some time before she contrived to say what she had come to say. Her father, who was in his dressing gown and slippers, had been busy at his writing table, and after looking at her for some moments and waiting, he went and seated himself at his papers again. His back was turned to her—she began to hear the scratching of his pen. She remained near the door with her heart thumping, and she was very glad that his back was turned, for it seemed to her that she could more easily address herself to this portion of his person than to his face. At last she began, watching it while she spoke.

“You told me that if I should have anything more to say about Mr. Townsend you would be glad to listen to it.”

“Exactly, my dear,” said the doctor, not turning round, but stopping his pen.

Catherine wished it would go on, but she herself continued. “I thought I would tell you that I have not seen him again, but that I should like to do so.”

“To bid him goodbye?” asked the doctor.

The girl hesitated a moment. “He is not going away.”

The doctor wheeled slowly round in his chair, with a smile that seemed to accuse her of an epigram, but extremes meet, and Catherine had not intended one. “It is not to bid him goodbye, then?” her father said.

“No, Father, not that; at least, not forever. I have not seen him again, but I should like to see him,” Catherine repeated.

The doctor slowly rubbed his under lip with the feather of his quill.

“Have you written to him?”

“Yes, four times.”

“You have not dismissed him, then. Once would have done that.”

“No,” said Catherine; “I have asked him—asked him to wait.”

Her father sat looking at her, and she was afraid he was going to break out into wrath; his eyes were so fine and cold.

“You are a dear, faithful child,” he said at last. “Come here to your father.” And he got up, holding out his hands toward her.

The words were a surprise, and they gave her an exquisite joy. She went to him, and he put his arm round her tenderly, soothingly, and then he kissed her. After this he said, “Do you wish to make me very happy?”

“I should like to—but I am afraid I can’t,” Catherine answered.

“You can if you will. It all depends on your will.”

“Is it to give him up?” said Catherine.

“Yes, it is to give him up.”

And he held her still, with the same tenderness, looking into her face and resting his eyes on her averted eyes. There was a long silence; she wished he would release her.

“You are happier than I, Father,” she said, at last.

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About the Author

From Washington Square. James was born in 1843, and by his midtwenties was considered one of the leading American short-story writers. He published Daisy Miller in 1879, The Portrait of a Lady in 1881, and The Bostonians in 1886. Bedridden and sometimes delirious in the winter of 1915, James requested that his secretary take dictation because, he said, he would “discover plenty of fresh worlds to conquer, even if I am to be cheated of the amusement of them.” He died the following year.

You don’t have to deserve your mother’s love. You have to deserve your father’s. He’s more particular. The father is always a Republican towards his son, and his mother’s always a Democrat.
Robert Frost, 1960
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