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    Chapter 22

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    Chapter 22
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    XXII.

    A party for the Blenkers--the Blenkers?"

    Mr. Welland laid down his knife and fork and
    looked anxiously and incredulously across the luncheon-
    table at his wife, who, adjusting her gold eye-glasses,
    read aloud, in the tone of high comedy: "Professor and
    Mrs. Emerson Sillerton request the pleasure of Mr. and
    Mrs. Welland's company at the meeting of the Wednesday
    Afternoon Club on August 25th at 3 o'clock
    punctually. To meet Mrs. and the Misses Blenker.
    "Red Gables, Catherine Street. R. S. V. P."

    "Good gracious--" Mr. Welland gasped, as if a second
    reading had been necessary to bring the monstrous
    absurdity of the thing home to him.

    "Poor Amy Sillerton--you never can tell what her
    husband will do next," Mrs. Welland sighed. "I suppose
    he's just discovered the Blenkers."

    Professor Emerson Sillerton was a thorn in the side
    of Newport society; and a thorn that could not be
    plucked out, for it grew on a venerable and venerated
    family tree. He was, as people said, a man who had
    had "every advantage." His father was Sillerton Jackson's
    uncle, his mother a Pennilow of Boston; on each
    side there was wealth and position, and mutual
    suitability. Nothing--as Mrs. Welland had often remarked--
    nothing on earth obliged Emerson Sillerton to be an
    archaeologist, or indeed a Professor of any sort, or to
    live in Newport in winter, or do any of the other
    revolutionary things that he did. But at least, if he was
    going to break with tradition and flout society in the
    face, he need not have married poor Amy Dagonet,
    who had a right to expect "something different," and
    money enough to keep her own carriage.

    No one in the Mingott set could understand why
    Amy Sillerton had submitted so tamely to the eccentricities
    of a husband who filled the house with long-
    haired men and short-haired women, and, when he
    travelled, took her to explore tombs in Yucatan instead
    of going to Paris or Italy. But there they were, set in
    their ways, and apparently unaware that they were
    different from other people; and when they gave one of
    their dreary annual garden-parties every family on the
    Cliffs, because of the Sillerton-Pennilow-Dagonet
    connection, had to draw lots and send an unwilling
    representative.

    "It's a wonder," Mrs. Welland remarked, "that they
    didn't choose the Cup Race day! Do you remember,
    two years ago, their giving a party for a black man on
    the day of Julia Mingott's the dansant? Luckily this
    time there's nothing else going on that I know of--for
    of course some of us will have to go."

    Mr. Welland sighed nervously. "'Some of us,' my
    dear--more than one? Three o'clock is such a very
    awkward hour. I have to be here at half-past three to
    take my drops: it's really no use trying to follow
    Bencomb's new treatment if I don't do it systematically;
    and if I join you later, of course I shall miss my
    drive." At the thought he laid down his knife and fork
    again, and a flush of anxiety rose to his finely-wrinkled
    cheek.

    "There's no reason why you should go at all, my
    dear," his wife answered with a cheerfulness that had
    become automatic. "I have some cards to leave at the
    other end of Bellevue Avenue, and I'll drop in at about
    half-past three and stay long enough to make poor
    Amy feel that she hasn't been slighted." She glanced
    hesitatingly at her daughter. "And if Newland's afternoon
    is provided for perhaps May can drive you out
    with the ponies, and try their new russet harness."

    It was a principle in the Welland family that people's
    days and hours should be what Mrs. Welland called
    "provided for." The melancholy possibility of having
    to "kill time" (especially for those who did not care for
    whist or solitaire) was a vision that haunted her as the
    spectre of the unemployed haunts the philanthropist.
    Another of her principles was that parents should never
    (at least visibly) interfere with the plans of their
    married children; and the difficulty of adjusting this respect
    for May's independence with the exigency of Mr. Welland's
    claims could be overcome only by the exercise of
    an ingenuity which left not a second of Mrs. Welland's
    own time unprovided for.

    "Of course I'll drive with Papa--I'm sure Newland
    will find something to do," May said, in a tone that
    gently reminded her husband of his lack of response. It
    was a cause of constant distress to Mrs. Welland that
    her son-in-law showed so little foresight in planning his
    days. Often already, during the fortnight that he had
    passed under her roof, when she enquired how he
    meant to spend his afternoon, he had answered
    paradoxically: "Oh, I think for a change I'll just save it
    instead of spending it--" and once, when she and May
    had had to go on a long-postponed round of afternoon
    calls, he had confessed to having lain all the afternoon
    under a rock on the beach below the house.

    "Newland never seems to look ahead," Mrs. Welland
    once ventured to complain to her daughter; and
    May answered serenely: "No; but you see it doesn't
    matter, because when there's nothing particular to do
    he reads a book."

    "Ah, yes--like his father!" Mrs. Welland agreed, as
    if allowing for an inherited oddity; and after that the
    question of Newland's unemployment was tacitly
    dropped.

    Nevertheless, as the day for the Sillerton reception
    approached, May began to show a natural solicitude
    for his welfare, and to suggest a tennis match at the
    Chiverses', or a sail on Julius Beaufort's cutter, as a
    means of atoning for her temporary desertion. "I shall
    be back by six, you know, dear: Papa never drives later
    than that--" and she was not reassured till Archer said
    that he thought of hiring a run-about and driving up
    the island to a stud-farm to look at a second horse for
    her brougham. They had been looking for this horse
    for some time, and the suggestion was so acceptable
    that May glanced at her mother as if to say: "You see
    he knows how to plan out his time as well as any of
    us."

    The idea of the stud-farm and the brougham horse
    had germinated in Archer's mind on the very day when
    the Emerson Sillerton invitation had first been
    mentioned; but he had kept it to himself as if there were
    something clandestine in the plan, and discovery might
    prevent its execution. He had, however, taken the
    precaution to engage in advance a runabout with a pair of
    old livery-stable trotters that could still do their
    eighteen miles on level roads; and at two o'clock, hastily
    deserting the luncheon-table, he sprang into the light
    carriage and drove off.

    The day was perfect. A breeze from the north drove
    little puffs of white cloud across an ultramarine sky,
    with a bright sea running under it. Bellevue Avenue
    was empty at that hour, and after dropping the stable-
    lad at the corner of Mill Street Archer turned down
    the Old Beach Road and drove across Eastman's Beach.

    He had the feeling of unexplained excitement with
    which, on half-holidays at school, he used to start off
    into the unknown. Taking his pair at an easy gait, he
    counted on reaching the stud-farm, which was not far
    beyond Paradise Rocks, before three o'clock; so that,
    after looking over the horse (and trying him if he
    seemed promising) he would still have four golden
    hours to dispose of.

    As soon as he heard of the Sillerton's party he had
    said to himself that the Marchioness Manson would
    certainly come to Newport with the Blenkers, and that
    Madame Olenska might again take the opportunity of
    spending the day with her grandmother. At any rate,
    the Blenker habitation would probably be deserted,
    and he would be able, without indiscretion, to satisfy a
    vague curiosity concerning it. He was not sure that he
    wanted to see the Countess Olenska again; but ever
    since he had looked at her from the path above the bay
    he had wanted, irrationally and indescribably, to see
    the place she was living in, and to follow the movements
    of her imagined figure as he had watched the
    real one in the summer-house. The longing was with
    him day and night, an incessant undefinable craving,
    like the sudden whim of a sick man for food or drink
    once tasted and long since forgotten. He could not see
    beyond the craving, or picture what it might lead to,
    for he was not conscious of any wish to speak to
    Madame Olenska or to hear her voice. He simply felt
    that if he could carry away the vision of the spot of
    earth she walked on, and the way the sky and sea
    enclosed it, the rest of the world might seem less empty.

    When he reached the stud-farm a glance showed him
    that the horse was not what he wanted; nevertheless he
    took a turn behind it in order to prove to himself that
    he was not in a hurry. But at three o'clock he shook
    out the reins over the trotters and turned into the
    by-roads leading to Portsmouth. The wind had dropped
    and a faint haze on the horizon showed that a fog was
    waiting to steal up the Saconnet on the turn of the tide;
    but all about him fields and woods were steeped in
    golden light.

    He drove past grey-shingled farm-houses in orchards,
    past hay-fields and groves of oak, past villages with
    white steeples rising sharply into the fading sky; and at
    last, after stopping to ask the way of some men at
    work in a field, he turned down a lane between high
    banks of goldenrod and brambles. At the end of the
    lane was the blue glimmer of the river; to the left,
    standing in front of a clump of oaks and maples, he
    saw a long tumble-down house with white paint peeling
    from its clapboards.

    On the road-side facing the gateway stood one of the
    open sheds in which the New Englander shelters his
    farming implements and visitors "hitch" their "teams."
    Archer, jumping down, led his pair into the shed, and
    after tying them to a post turned toward the house.
    The patch of lawn before it had relapsed into a hay-
    field; but to the left an overgrown box-garden full of
    dahlias and rusty rose-bushes encircled a ghostly summer-
    house of trellis-work that had once been white,
    surmounted by a wooden Cupid who had lost his bow
    and arrow but continued to take ineffectual aim.

    Archer leaned for a while against the gate. No one
    was in sight, and not a sound came from the open
    windows of the house: a grizzled Newfoundland dozing
    before the door seemed as ineffectual a guardian as
    the arrowless Cupid. It was strange to think that this
    place of silence and decay was the home of the turbulent
    Blenkers; yet Archer was sure that he was not
    mistaken.

    For a long time he stood there, content to take in the
    scene, and gradually falling under its drowsy spell; but
    at length he roused himself to the sense of the passing
    time. Should he look his fill and then drive away? He
    stood irresolute, wishing suddenly to see the inside of
    the house, so that he might picture the room that
    Madame Olenska sat in. There was nothing to prevent
    his walking up to the door and ringing the bell; if, as
    he supposed, she was away with the rest of the party,
    he could easily give his name, and ask permission to go
    into the sitting-room to write a message.

    But instead, he crossed the lawn and turned toward
    the box-garden. As he entered it he caught sight of
    something bright-coloured in the summer-house, and
    presently made it out to be a pink parasol. The parasol
    drew him like a magnet: he was sure it was hers. He
    went into the summer-house, and sitting down on the
    rickety seat picked up the silken thing and looked at its
    carved handle, which was made of some rare wood
    that gave out an aromatic scent. Archer lifted the handle
    to his lips.

    He heard a rustle of skirts against the box, and sat
    motionless, leaning on the parasol handle with clasped
    hands, and letting the rustle come nearer without lifting
    his eyes. He had always known that this must
    happen . . .

    "Oh, Mr. Archer!" exclaimed a loud young voice;
    and looking up he saw before him the youngest and
    largest of the Blenker girls, blonde and blowsy, in
    bedraggled muslin. A red blotch on one of her cheeks
    seemed to show that it had recently been pressed against
    a pillow, and her half-awakened eyes stared at him
    hospitably but confusedly.

    "Gracious--where did you drop from? I must have
    been sound asleep in the hammock. Everybody else has
    gone to Newport. Did you ring?" she incoherently
    enquired.

    Archer's confusion was greater than hers. "I--no--
    that is, I was just going to. I had to come up the island
    to see about a horse, and I drove over on a chance of
    finding Mrs. Blenker and your visitors. But the house
    seemed empty--so I sat down to wait."

    Miss Blenker, shaking off the fumes of sleep, looked
    at him with increasing interest. "The house IS empty.
    Mother's not here, or the Marchioness--or anybody
    but me." Her glance became faintly reproachful. "Didn't
    you know that Professor and Mrs. Sillerton are giving a
    garden-party for mother and all of us this afternoon? It
    was too unlucky that I couldn't go; but I've had a sore
    throat, and mother was afraid of the drive home this
    evening. Did you ever know anything so disappointing?
    Of course," she added gaily, "I shouldn't have minded
    half as much if I'd known you were coming."

    Symptoms of a lumbering coquetry became visible in
    her, and Archer found the strength to break in: "But
    Madame Olenska--has she gone to Newport too?"

    Miss Blenker looked at him with surprise. "Madame
    Olenska--didn't you know she'd been called away?"

    "Called away?--"

    "Oh, my best parasol! I lent it to that goose of a
    Katie, because it matched her ribbons, and the careless
    thing must have dropped it here. We Blenkers are all
    like that . . . real Bohemians!" Recovering the
    sunshade with a powerful hand she unfurled it and
    suspended its rosy dome above her head. "Yes, Ellen was
    called away yesterday: she lets us call her Ellen, you
    know. A telegram came from Boston: she said she
    might be gone for two days. I do LOVE the way she does
    her hair, don't you?" Miss Blenker rambled on.

    Archer continued to stare through her as though she
    had been transparent. All he saw was the trumpery
    parasol that arched its pinkness above her giggling
    head.

    After a moment he ventured: "You don't happen to
    know why Madame Olenska went to Boston? I hope it
    was not on account of bad news?"

    Miss Blenker took this with a cheerful incredulity.
    "Oh, I don't believe so. She didn't tell us what was in
    the telegram. I think she didn't want the Marchioness
    to know. She's so romantic-looking, isn't she? Doesn't
    she remind you of Mrs. Scott-Siddons when she reads
    'Lady Geraldine's Courtship'? Did you never hear her?"

    Archer was dealing hurriedly with crowding thoughts.
    His whole future seemed suddenly to be unrolled
    before him; and passing down its endless emptiness he
    saw the dwindling figure of a man to whom nothing
    was ever to happen. He glanced about him at the
    unpruned garden, the tumble-down house, and the oak-
    grove under which the dusk was gathering. It had
    seemed so exactly the place in which he ought to have
    found Madame Olenska; and she was far away, and
    even the pink sunshade was not hers . . .

    He frowned and hesitated. "You don't know, I
    suppose-- I shall be in Boston tomorrow. If I could
    manage to see her--"

    He felt that Miss Blenker was losing interest in him,
    though her smile persisted. "Oh, of course; how lovely
    of you! She's staying at the Parker House; it must be
    horrible there in this weather."

    After that Archer was but intermittently aware of the
    remarks they exchanged. He could only remember stoutly
    resisting her entreaty that he should await the returning
    family and have high tea with them before he drove
    home. At length, with his hostess still at his side, he
    passed out of range of the wooden Cupid, unfastened his
    horses and drove off. At the turn of the lane he saw Miss
    Blenker standing at the gate and waving the pink parasol.
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    Chapter 22
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