I clambered out upon the sill, but I hesitated to jump until I should have heard what passed between my savior and the ruffian who pursued me. If she were ill-used, then at any risks I was determined to go back to her assistance. The thought had hardly flashed through my mind before he was at the door, pushing his way past her; but she threw her arms round him and tried to hold him back.

The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb

Doyle, Arthur Conan

Context: With the cleaver-wielding Colonel Stark chasing him and a woman trying to protect him, he (Victor Hatherley) has climbed out onto a window ledge and is thinking of jumping to the ground in an attempt to escape. But out of concern for the safety of the woman (his “saviour”), he hesitates to do so.

Hi. Could you please explain why subjunctive “were” is used here? I don’t think it indicates something counterfactual.

Thank you.

Original Post
zuotengdazuo posted:

I clambered out upon the sill, but I hesitated to jump until I should have heard what passed between my savior and the ruffian who pursued me. If she were ill-used, then at any risks I was determined to go back to her assistance.   [. . .]

Doyle, Arthur Conan [. . .]

Could you please explain why subjunctive “were” is used here? I don’t think it indicates something counterfactual.

Hi, Zuotengdazuo,

It is an interesting specimen. Please keep in mind that it was written quite some time ago. I understand this conditional as a Type 2, but from the perspective of the past. That is, the speaker is inviting us into his past thoughts.

It is as though the speaker is saying that he thought at the time that he would go back to her assistance if she were ill-used: "If she were ill-used, I would go back to her assistance." He conceives of her being ill-used by his pursuer as unlikely.

Compare: "I thought at the time, 'If she should be ill-used, I would go back.'"

Hi. Thank you, David.

David, Moderator posted:
zuotengdazuo posted:

I clambered out upon the sill, but I hesitated to jump until I should have heard what passed between my savior and the ruffian who pursued me. If she were ill-used, then at any risks I was determined to go back to her assistance.   [. . .]

Doyle, Arthur Conan [. . .]

Could you please explain why subjunctive “were” is used here? I don’t think it indicates something counterfactual.

It is as though the speaker is saying that he thought at the time that he would go back to her assistance if she were ill-used: "If she were ill-used, I would go back to her assistance." He conceives of her being ill-used by his pursuer as unlikely.

Compare: "I thought at the time, 'If she should be ill-used, I would go back.'"

But the narrator hadn’t yet heard anything that would happen between the pursuer and the woman, so how could he have known her being ill-used by the pursuer was unlikely?

zuotengdazuo posted:
But the narrator hadn’t yet heard anything that would happen between the pursuer and the woman, so how could he have known her being ill-used by the pursuer was unlikely?

A speaker does not have to know that a situation is unlikely in order to feel that it is unlikely. He may assume that it is unlikely or choose to represent it that way.

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