Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 815
At six o’clock one afternoon, Jenny Blanchard, a milliner’s assistant, returned on the tram from her place of work in London’s West End to her home in Kennington Park, a suburb south of the Thames River. As the tram passed over the dark Thames, she felt a sense of great unhappiness and frustration; but the mysterious quality of her reflection in the tram window gave her momentary satisfaction.
The Blanchard house was one of a row of identical houses in Kennington Park. There Jenny and her sister Emmy took care of their semi-invalid father, who lived on a pension and on money that Jenny earned at the milliner’s shop. Emmy was older than Jenny and served as the housekeeper; she stayed at home to prepare meals and to look after Pa Blanchard. The sisters were quite different in personality, character, and appearance. Jenny was thin, tall, rather beautiful, and of an independent nature. Emmy was plain, domestic, and dependent. The sisters, however, shared a frustration brought on by commonplace routine and dull existence.
Jenny began a quarrel when she expressed her intense dislike for their supper of stew and bread pudding; she felt, somehow, that she was entitled to better fare, but she was sure that the colorless Emmy enjoyed stew and pudding. Jealousy and frustration gave rise to bitter words between the two sisters. Emmy was also upset because Jenny kept company with Alf Rylett, whom she herself wanted. Jenny disdainfully offered Emmy her share of Alf and said that she kept company with him only for diversion.
After supper, as Jenny was preparing to remake a hat, Alf entered and told her that he had two tickets to the local theater. Jenny tricked Alf into asking Emmy to go with him. While Emmy was changing, Jenny parried Alf’s protestations of love. Emmy, appearing actually lovely after her change, swallowed her pride and went with Alf, whom she idolized. It was eight o’clock.
Jenny put Pa to bed and resumed work on her hat. She rationalized her throwing over of Alf by saying to herself that she wanted adventure and that steady Alf was not the man to satisfy her dreams of romance. Besides, Emmy was the marrying kind, not she. While Jenny wished ardently for something thrilling to happen in her drab life, a knock sounded at the door. A liveried servant handed her a letter and waited. The letter, which was signed Keith, bade her to come to him immediately. Apprehensively, she left Pa alone and rode in a large car to the Thames. There she met Keith Redington, whom she had known only three days during a seaside vacation. He rowed her out to a yacht anchored in the river. The yacht, of which Keith was the captain, belonged to a wealthy lord. It was nine o’clock.
On the yacht, Jenny found supper set for two. She was suspicious of Keith’s intentions and annoyed at his confidence that she would come. Although little more than strangers, the couple gradually warmed to each other; Jenny discarded her suspicions in her desire for happiness. Keith told her of his life, of three women he had loved, one of whom had been his wife, and of his desire to marry Jenny. Hungry for an entirely different story, Jenny was hurt, but Keith’s enthusiasm in explaining his romantic plans for the two of them completely mollified her. The romantic dream of going off to Alaska or to Labrador was crushed, however, when Jenny thought of Pa. At midnight, she left Keith and was driven home by the liveried chauffeur.
Meanwhile, Alf and Emmy had gone to the theater. The demure and domestic little Emmy had provoked startling reactions in Alf’s mind and heart; they took the long way home after the show, and Alf quickly came to the conclusion that Emmy was, after all, the girl for him. They kissed and decided to marry as soon as possible. Emmy invited Alf into the house for a late supper.
In the kitchen, they stumbled over the body of Pa, who had fallen and struck his head in an attempt to get at his beer, which was kept on a high shelf. As they revived Pa, Jenny entered. Later Emmy, glowing with happiness, revealed to Jenny what had happened between her and Alf; Jenny then told Emmy about Keith and the yacht and their plans to run away to a romantic land. Despite her distrust of Keith, Emmy, in her happiness, expressed approval. The sisters retired in the early hours of the morning, both lost in the utter completeness of the day; but Jenny, in bed, became conscious-stricken because she had left Pa and because she had given up her independence and freedom by admitting her love for Keith. The romantic nocturne was fading into common day.
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