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Under the Skylights (Book1 Chapter18)

2006-08-22 21:44

  The Downfall of Abner Joyce Chapter XVIII

  Presently Leverett Whyland came along. The cares of the urban property-owner and of the gentleman farmer were alike cast aside; Abner had never known him to appear so natty, so buoyant, so juvenile. Another man accompanied him, a man older, larger, heavier, graver, with a close-clipped gray beard. This newcomer bowed to Mrs. Whyland with a repression that indicated but a distant acquaintance; and just as Medora was whisked away by a new partner——it was Bond, claiming the first of his four——Whyland introduced him to Abner: “Mr. Joyce, Mr. M'm——” Abner, occupied by Bond's appropriation of Medora, lost the name.

  “And where is Clytie?” asked Whyland, looking about. “Has anybody seen or heard anything of little Clytie Summers?”

  “No doubt she will appear presently,” said his wife drily.

  “And meanwhile——?” he suggested, motioning toward the floor.

  “It might not look amiss,” replied his wife, rising. They joined the dancers.

  Abner was left alone with his new acquaintance, who, arriving at an instant apprehension of our young man's bulk, seriousness and essential alienation from the spirit of the affair, seized him as a spent and bewildered swimmer in strange waters lays hold upon some massive beam that happens to be drifting past. Abner clung in turn, glad to recognise a kindred spirit in the midst of this gaudy, frivolous throng. The two quickly found the common ground of serious interests. The circling, swinging dancers retired into the background; their place was quietly taken by the Balance of Trade, by the Condition of the Country, by Aggregations of Capital, by Land and Labour; and presently Abner was leading forth, all saddled and bridled, the Readjusted Tax.

  “This is something like,” he thought.

  The other made observations and comments in a slow, grave, subdued tone. “Who is he?” wondered Abner. “What can he be connected with? Anyway, he's a fine, solid fellow——the kind Whyland might come to be with a little trying.”

  Stephen Giles passed by, guiding the billowy undulations of Eudoxia Pence. Eudoxia had a buoyancy that more than counteracted her bulk, and she wafted about, a substantial vision in lemon-coloured silk, for all to see. She looked at Abner's companion over Giles's shoulder.

  “Enjoying yourself, dear?” she asked. Then she nodded to Abner and floated away.

  Abner, instantly chilled, looked sidewise at his companion with a dawning censoriousness in his eyes. He had probably been talking, for a good ten minutes and in full view of the entire hall, to that arch-magnate of the trusts, Palmer Pence. He began to cast about for means to break up this calamitous situation. He welcomed the return of Leverett Whyland with his wife.

  “Well, Pence,” said Whyland, “how has the Amalgamated Association of Non-Dancers been doing?”

  “Pence,” Whyland had said. Yes, this was the Trust man, after all.

  “First-rate,” returned the other briefly, rising to go. “That's a fine, serious young fellow,” he added, for Whyland's ear alone. “There's stuff in him.”

  “Been getting on with him, eh?” said Whyland ruefully. “Well, you're in luck.”

  Abner glowered gloomily across the thinning floor. Another dance had just ended and Whyland had skimmed away once again. Abner, forgetful of the presence of Edith Whyland, made indignant moan to himself over the perverse fate that had led him on toward friendliness with a man whose principles and whose public influence he could not approve.

  There was a sudden stir about the distant doorway. Abner heard the clapping of hands and a few hearty, jubilant yaps frankly emitted by young barytone voices. “What now?” he wondered, with a sidelong glance at Edith Whyland.

  Mrs. Whyland, herself half-risen, was looking toward the door, like everybody else. “Finally!” she said, with a pleased smile, and sank back into her place.

  A tall, stalwart figure came through the crowd amidst a storm of hand-clapping and of cheers. The maids of mediaeval France fluttered their long veils, and their young male contemporaries waved their velvet caps.

  It was a gentleman of sixty with a bunch of white whiskers on either jaw and a pair of flashing steel-gray eyes. He nodded brusquely here and there and looked about with a tight, fierce smile. “Hurrah! hurrah!” cried all the students, from the life class down to the cubes and cones.

  “Who is he?” asked Abner.

  “Why, that's Dr. Gowdy,” replied his companion. “The ball would hardly be a ball without him here. He has led the grand march more than once——”

  “A man of his age and dignity!” mumbled Abner.

  “——but he is late to-night, for some reason. He is one of the Academy trustees,” she added.

  “Perhaps his patients kept him.” Abner's tone implied that professional duties would set much more gracefully on such a figure than social diversions.

  “His patients?”

  “Yes. You said he was a doctor.”

  “But not a doctor of medicine. A doctor of theology.”

  “A minister?——a minister of the gospel?”

  “He is, indeed. And I——”

  “And you?”

  “I am one of his parishioners. I sit under him every Sunday.”

  Abner was dumb. This professing Christian, this pattern of evangelicalism, could witness such things without pronouncing a single word of protest. “Is he going to dance?” he asked finally.

  “I think not. He is coming over here presently to sit with me, just as you have been doing. You shall meet him.”

  Abner was dazed. Palmer Pence, doubtless, was here under protest; but this man, his superior in age, credit and renown, had apparently come of his own free will. He sat there staring at the smiling progress of the Rev. William S. Gowdy through the throng of jubilant students. He felt stunned, dislocated. It was all too much.

  “Well, well,” he heard Mrs. Whyland say. He looked about at her and then out upon the clearing floor.

  “Well, well,” said Mrs. Whyland once again. The wide, empty space before them was lending itself to a second grand entree, by a party of one. Clytie Summers had finally arrived.

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