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IT has been often enough remarked that women have a curious power of divining the characters of men, which would seem to be innate and instinctive; seeing that it is arrived at through no patient process of reasoning, that it can give no satisfactory or sufficient account of itself, and that it pronounces in the most confident manner even against accumulated observation on the part of the other sex. But it has not been quite so often remarked that this power (fallible, like every other human attribute) is for the most part absolutely incapable of self-revision; and that when it has delivered an adverse opinion which by all human lights is subsequently proved to have failed, it is undistinguishable from prejudice, in respect of its determination not to be corrected. Nay, the very possibility of contradiction or disproof, however remote, communicates to this feminine judgment from the first, in nine cases out of ten, the weakness attendant on the testimony of an interested witness; so personally and strongly does the fair diviner connect herself with her divination.
'Now, don't you think, Ma dear,' said the Minor Canon to his mother one day as she sat at her knitting in his little book-room, 'that you are rather hard on Mr. Neville?'
'No, I do NOT, Sept,' returned the old lady.
'Let us discuss it, Ma.'
'I have no objection to discuss it, Sept. I trust, my dear, I am always open to discussion.' There was a vibration in the old lady's cap, as though she internally added: 'and I should like to see the discussion that would change MY mind!'
'Very good, Ma,' said her conciliatory son. 'There is nothing like being open to discussion.'
'I hope not, my dear,' returned the old lady, evidently shut to it.
'Well! Mr. Neville, on that unfortunate occasion, commits himself under provocation.'
'And under mulled wine,' added the old lady.
'I must admit the wine. Though I believe the two young men were much alike in that regard.'
'I don't,' said the old lady.
'Why not, Ma?'
'Because I DON'T,' said the old lady. 'Still, I am quite open to discussion.'
'But, my dear Ma, I cannot see how we are to discuss, if you take that line.'
'Blame Mr. Neville for it, Sept, and not me,' said the old lady, with stately severity.
'My dear Ma! why Mr. Neville?'
'Because,' said Mrs. Crisparkle, retiring on first principles, 'he came home intoxicated, and did great discredit to this house, and showed great disrespect to this family.'
'That is not to be denied, Ma. He was then, and he is now, very sorry for it.'
'But for Mr. Jasper's well-bred consideration in coming up to me, next day, after service, in the Nave itself, with his gown still on, and expressing his hope that I had not been greatly alarmed or had my rest violently broken, I believe I might never have heard of that disgraceful transaction,' said the old lady.
'To be candid, Ma, I think I should have kept it from you if I could: though I had not decidedly made up my mind. I was following Jasper out, to confer with him on the subject, and to consider the expediency of his and my jointly hushing the thing up on all accounts, when I found him speaking to you. Then it was too late.'
'Too late, indeed, Sept. He was still as pale as gentlemanly ashes at what had taken place in his rooms overnight.'
'If I HAD kept it from you, Ma, you may be sure it would have been for your peace and quiet, and for the good of the young men, and in my best discharge of my duty according to my lights.'
The old lady immediately walked across the room and kissed him: saying, 'Of course, my dear Sept, I am sure of that.'
'However, it became the town-talk,' said Mr. Crisparkle, rubbing his ear, as his mother resumed her seat, and her knitting, 'and passed out of my power.'
'And I said then, Sept,' returned the old lady, 'that I thought ill of Mr. Neville. And I say now, that I think ill of Mr. Neville. And I said then, and I say now, that I hope Mr. Neville may come to good, but I don't believe he will.' Here the cap vibrated again considerably.
'I am sorry to hear you say so, Ma - '
'I am sorry to say so, my dear,' interposed the old lady, knitting on firmly, 'but I can't help it.'
' - For,' pursued the Minor Canon, 'it is undeniable that Mr. Neville is exceedingly industrious and attentive, and that he improves apace, and that he has - I hope I may say - an attachment to me.'
'There is no merit in the last article, my dear,' said the old lady, quickly; 'and if he says there is, I think the worse of him for the boast.'
'But, my dear Ma, he never said there was.'
'Perhaps not,' returned the old lady; 'still, I don't see that it greatly signifies.'
There was no impatience in the pleasant look with which Mr. Crisparkle contemplated the pretty old piece of china as it knitted; but there was, certainly, a humorous sense of its not being a piece of china to argue with very closely.
'Besides, Sept, ask yourself what he would be without his sister. You know what an influence she has over him; you know what a capacity she has; you know that whatever he reads with you, he reads with her. Give her her fair share of your praise, and how much do you leave for him?'
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The Mystery of Edwin Drood -- by Charles Dickens