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Title: A Fountain Sealed
Author: Sedgwick, Anne Douglas
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Fountain Sealed" ***

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A FOUNTAIN SEALED

by

ANNE DOUGLAS SEDGWICK

(Mrs. Basil de Sélincourt)

Author of 'The Little French Girl,' 'Franklin Winslow Kane,' 'Tante,' etc.



I


Three people were sitting in a small drawing-room, the windows of which
looked out upon a wintry Boston street. It was a room rather empty and
undecorated, but the idea of austerity was banished by a temperature
so nearly tropical. There were rows of books on white shelves, a pale
Donatello cast on the wall, and two fine bronze vases filled with roses on
the mantelpiece. Over the roses hung a portrait in oils, very sleek and
very accurate, of a commanding old gentleman in uniform, painted by a
well-known German painter, and all about the room were photographs of young
women, most of them young mothers, with smooth heads and earnest faces,
holding babies. Outside, the snow was heaped high along the pavements
and thickly ridged the roofs and lintels. After the blizzard the sun was
shining and all the white glittered. The national colors, to a patriotic
imagination, were pleasingly represented by the red, white and blue of the
brick houses, the snow, and the vivid sky above.

The three people who talked, with many intimate pauses of silence, were all
Bostonians, though of widely different types. The hostess, sitting in an
easy chair and engaged with some sewing, was a girl of about twenty-six.
She wore a brown skirt of an ugly cut and shade and a white silk shirt,
adorned with a high linen collar, a brown tie and an old-fashioned gold
watch-chain. Her forehead was too large, her nose too short; but her lips
were full and pleasant and when she smiled she showed charming teeth. The
black-rimmed glasses she wore emphasized the clearness and candor of her
eyes. Her thick, fair hair was firmly fastened in a group of knobs down the
back of her head. There was an element of the grotesque in her appearance
and in her careful, clumsy movements, yet, with it, a quality almost
graceful, that suggested homely and wholesome analogies,--freshly-baked
bread; fair, sweet linen; the safety and content of evening firesides. This
was Mary Colton.

The girl who sat near the window, her furs thrown back from her shoulders,
a huge muff dangling from her hand, was a few years younger and exceedingly
pretty. Her skin was unusually white, her hair unusually black, her velvety
eyes unusually large and dark. In. her attitude, lounging, graceful,
indifferent, in her delicate face, the straight, sulky brows, the coldly
closed lips, the coldly observant eyes, a sort of permanent discontent was
expressed, as though she could find, neither in herself nor in the world,
any adequate satisfaction. This was Rose Packer.

The other guest, sitting sidewise on a stiff chair, his hand hanging over
the back, his long legs crossed, was a young man, graceful, lean and
shabby. He was clean-shaven, with brown skin and golden hair, an unruly
lock lying athwart his forehead. His face, intent, alert, was veiled in
an indolent nonchalance. He looked earnest, yet capricious, staunch, yet
sensitive, and one felt that, conscious of these weaknesses, he tried to
master or to hide them.

These three had known one another since childhood. Jack's family was old
and rich; Mary's old and poor; Rose Packer's new and of fantastic wealth.
Rose was a young woman of fashion and her whole aspect seemed to repudiate
any closeness of tie between herself and Mary, who passed her time in
caring for General Colton, her invalid father, attending committees, and,
as a diversion, going to "sewing-circles" and symphony concerts; but she
was fonder of Mary than of any one else in the world. Rose, who had, as
it were, been brought up all over the world, divided her time now between
two continents and quaintly diversified her dancing, hunting, yachting
existence by the arduous study of biology. Jack, in appearance more
ambiguous than either, looked neither useful nor ornamental; but, in point
of fact, he was a much occupied person. He painted very seriously, was
something of a scholar and devoted much of his time and most of his large
fortune to intricate benevolences. His shabby clothes were assumed, like
the air of indolence; his wealth irked him and, full of a democratic
transcendentalism, he longed to efface all the signs that separated him
from the average toiler. While Rose was quite ignorant of her own country
west of the Atlantic seaboard, Jack had wandered North, South, West. As
for Mary, she had hardly left Boston in her life, except to go to the
Massachusetts coast in summer and to pay a rare visit now and then to New
York. It was of such a visit that she had been talking to them and of the
friend who, since her own return home only a few days before, had suffered
a sudden bereavement in the death of her father. Jack Pennington, also a
near friend of Imogen Upton's, had just come from New York, where he had
been with her during the mournful ceremonies of death, and Mary Colton,
after a little pause, had said, "I suppose she was very wonderful through
it all."

"She bore up very well," said Jack Pennington. "There would never be
anything selfish in her grief."

"Never. And when one thinks what a grief it is. She is wonderful," said
Mary.

"You think every one wonderful, Molly," Rose Packer remarked, not at all
aggressively, but with her air of quiet ill-temper.

"Mary's enthusiasm has hit the mark this time," said Pennington, casting a
glance more scrutinizing than severe upon the girl.

"I really can't see it. Of course Imogen Upton is pretty--remarkably
pretty--though I've always thought her nose too small; and she is certainly
clever; but why should she be called wonderful?"

"I think it is her goodness, Rose," said Mary, with an air of gentle
willingness to explain. "It's her radiant goodness. I know that Imogen has
mastered philosophies, literatures, sciences--in so far as a young and very
busy girl can master them, and that very wise men are glad to talk to her;
but it's not of that one thinks--nor of her great beauty, either. Both seem
taken up, absorbed in that selflessness, that loving-kindness, that's like
a higher kind of cleverness--almost like a genius."

"She's not nearly so good as you are, Molly. And after all, what does she
do, anyway?"

Mary kept her look of leniency, as if over the half-playful naughtinesses
of a child. "She organizes and supports all sorts of charities, all sorts
of reforms; she is the wisest, sweetest of hostesses; she takes care of her
brother; she took care of her father;--she takes care of anybody who is in
need or unhappy."

"Was Mr. Upton so unhappy? He certainly looked gloomy;--I hardly knew him;
Eddy, however, I do know, very well; he isn't in the least unhappy. He
doesn't need help."

"I think we all need help, dear. As for Mr. Upton,--you know," Mary spoke
very gravely now, "you know about Mrs. Upton."

"Of course I do, and what's better, I know her herself a little. _Elle est
charmeuse_."

"I have never seen her," said Mary, "but I don't understand how you can
call a frivolous and heartless woman, who practically deserted her husband
and children, _charmeuse_;--but perhaps that is all that one can call her."

"I like frivolous people," said Rose, "and most women would have deserted
Mr. Upton, if what I've heard of him was true."

"What have you heard of him?"

"That he was a bombastic prig."

At this Mary's pale cheek colored. "Try to remember, Rose, that he died
only a week ago."

"Oh, he may be different now, of course."

"I can't bear to hear you speak so, Rose. I did know him. I saw a great
deal of him during this last year. He was a very big person indeed."

"Of course I'm a pig to talk like this, if you really liked him, Molly."

But Mary was not to be turned aside by such ambiguous apology. "You see,
you don't know, Rose. The pleasure-seeking, worldly people among whom you
live could hardly understand a man like Mr. Upton. Simply what he did for
civic reform,--worked himself to death over it. And his books on ethics,
politics. It isn't a question of my liking him. I don't know that I ever
thought of my feeling for him in those terms. It was reverence, rather, and
gratitude for his being what he was."

"Well, dear, I do remember hearing men, and not worldly men, as you call
them, either, say that his work for civic reform amounted to very little
and that his books were thin and unoriginal. As for that community place he
founded at, where was it?--Clackville? He meddled that out of life."

"He may have been Utopian, he may have been in some ways ineffectual; but
he was a good man, a wonderful, yes, Rose, a wonderful man,"

"And do you think that Molly has hit the mark in this, too?" Rose asked,
turning her eyes on Pennington. He had been listening with an air of light
inattention and now he answered tersely, as if conquering some inner
reluctance by over-emphasis, "Couldn't abide him."

Rose laughed out, though with some surprise in her triumph; and Mary,
redder than before, rejoined in a low voice, "I didn't expect you, Jack, to
let personal tastes interfere with fair judgment."

"Oh, I'm not judging him," said Jack.

"But do you feel with me," said Rose, "that it's no wonder that Mrs. Upton
left him."

"Not in the least," Pennington replied, glad, evidently, to make clear his
disagreement. "I don't know of any reason that Mrs. Upton had for deserting
not only her husband but her children."

"But have they been left? Isn't it merely that they prefer to stay?"

"Prefer to live in their own country? among their own people? Certainly."

"But she spends part of every year with them. There was never any open
breach."

"Everybody knew that she would not live with her husband and everybody knew
why," Mary said. "It has nearly broken Imogen's heart. She left him because
he wouldn't lead the kind of life she wanted to lead--the kind of life she
leads in England--one of mere pleasure and self-indulgent ease. She hasn't
the faintest conception of duty or of patriotism. She couldn't help her
husband in any way, and she wouldn't let him help her. All she cares for is
fashion, admiration and pretty clothes."

"Stuff and nonsense, my dear! She doesn't think one bit more about her
clothes than Imogen does. It requires more thought to look like a saint in
velvet than to go to the best dressmaker and order a trousseau. I wonder
how long it took Imogen to find out that way of doing her hair."

"Rose!--I must beg of you--I love her."

"But I'm saying nothing against her!"

"When I think of what she is suffering now, what you say sounds cruelly
irreverent. Jack, I know, feels as I do."

"Yes, he does," said the young man. He got up now and stood, very tall, in
the middle of the room looking down at Mary. "I must be off. I'll bring
you those books to-morrow afternoon--though I don't see much good in your
reading d'Annunzio."

"Why, if you do, Jack?" said Mary, with some wonder. And the degree of
intimate equality in the relations of these young people may be gaged by
the fact that he appeared to receive her rejoinder as conclusive.

"Well, he's interesting, of course, and if one wants to understand modern
decadence in an all-round way--"

"I want to understand everything," said Mary. "And please bring your best
Italian dictionary with them."

"Before you go, Jack," said Rose, "pray shut the register. It's quite
stifling in here."

"Far too hot," said Jack, showing his impartiality of spirit by his
seconding of Rose's complaint, for it was evident she had much displeased
him. "I've often told you, Mary, how bad it was for you. That's why you are
so pale."

"I'm so sorry. Have you been feeling it much? Leave the door into the hall
open."

"And do cast one glance, if only of disapprobation, upon me, Jack," Rose
pleaded in mock distress.

"You are a very amusing child, Rose, sometimes," was Pennington's only
answer.

"He's evidently very cross with me," said Rose, when he was gone. "While
you are not--you who have every right to be, angelic Molly."

"I hope you didn't realize, Rose, how you were hurting him."

"I?" Rose opened wide eyes. "How, pray?"

"Don't you know that he is devoted to Imogen Upton?"

"Why, who isn't devoted to her, except wicked me?"

"Devoted in particular--in love with her, I think," said Mary.

Rose's face took on a more acutely discontented look, after the pause in
which she seemed, though unrepentantly, to acquiesce in a conviction of
ineptitude. "Really in love with her?"

"I think so; I hope so."

"How foolish of him," said Rose. Mary, at this, rested a gaze so long and
so reproachful upon her that the discontent gave way to an affectionate
compunction. "The truth is, Mary, that I'm jealous; I'm petty; I'm horrid.
I don't like sharing you. I like you to like me most, and not to find other
people wonderful."

"If you own that you are naughty, Rose, dear, and that you try hard to be
naughtier than you really are, I can't be angry with you. But it does hurt
me, for your own sake, to see you--really malicious, dear."

"Oh, dear! Am I that?"

"Really you are."

"Because I called Imogen Upton a saint in velvet?--and like her mother so
much, much more?"

"Yes, because of that--and all the rest. As for jealousy, one doesn't love
people more because they are wonderful. One is glad of them and one longs
to share them. It's one of my dearest hopes that you may come to care for
Imogen as I do--and as Jack does."

Rose listened, her head bent forward, her eyes, ambiguous in their
half-ironic, half-tender, meaning, on her friend; but she only said, "_I_
shall remain in love with you, Mary." She didn't say again, though she was
thinking it, that Jack was very foolish.



II


"Darling, darling Mother:

"I know too well what you have been feeling since the cable reached you;
and first of all I want to help you to bear it by telling you at once that
you could not have reached him in time. You must not reproach yourself for
that.

"I am shattered by this long day. Father died early this morning, but I
must hold what strength I have, firmly, for you, and tell you all that you
will want to hear. He would have wished that; you know how he felt about a
selfish yielding to grief.

"He seemed quite well until the beginning of this week--five days ago--but
he was never strong; the long struggle that life must always mean to those
who face life as he did, wore on him more and more; for others' sakes he
often assumed a buoyancy of manner that, I am sure,--one feels these things
by intuition of those one loves--often hid suffering and intense weariness.
It was just a case of the sword wearing out the scabbard. A case of, 'Yes,
uphill to the very end.' I know that you did not guess how fragile the
scabbard had become, and you must not reproach yourself, darling, for that
either. We are hardly masters of the intuitions that warn us of these
things. Death teaches us so much, and, beside him, looking at his quiet
face, so wonderful in its peace and triumph, I have learned many lessons.
He has seemed to teach me, in his silence, the gentler, deeper sympathy
with temperament. You couldn't help it, darling, I seem to understand that
more and more. You weren't at the place, so to speak, where he could help
you. Oh, I want to be so tender with you, my mother,--and to help you to
wise, strong tenderness toward yourself.

"On Tuesday he worked, as usual, all morning; he had thrown himself heart
and soul, as you know, into our great fight with civic corruption--what a
worker he was, what a fighter! He was so wonderful at lunch, I remember.
I had my dear little Mary Colton with me and he held us both spellbound,
talking, with all his enthusiasm and ardor, of politics, art, life and the
living of life. Mary said, when she left me that day, that to know him had
been one of the greatest things in her experience. In the afternoon he went
to a committee meeting at the Citizens' Union. It was bitterly cold and
though I begged him to be selfish for once and take a cab, he wouldn't--you
remember his Spartan contempt of costly comforts--and I can see him now,
going down the steps, smiling, shaking his head, waving his hand, and
saying with that half-sad, half-quizzical, smile of his, 'Plenty of people
who need bread a good deal more than I need cabs, little daughter.' So, in
the icy wind, he walked to the cable-car, with its over-heated atmosphere.
He got back late, only in time to dress for dinner. Several interesting men
came and we had a splendid evening, really wonderful talk, _constructive_
talk, vitalizing, inspiring, of the world and the work to be done for it. I
noticed that father seemed flushed, but thought it merely the interest of
the discussion. He did not come down to breakfast next morning and when I
went to him I found him very feverish. He confessed then that he had caught
a bad chill the day before. I sent for the doctor at once, and for a little
while had no anxiety. But the fever became higher and higher and that night
the doctor said that it was pneumonia.

"Dearest, dearest mother, these last days are still too much with me for me
to feel able to make you see them clearly. It is all a tragic confusion in
my mind. Everything that could be done was done to save him. He had nurses
and consultations--all the aids of science and love. I wired for Eddy at
once, and dear Jack Pennington was with me, too, so helpful with his deep
sympathy and friendship. I needed help, mother, for it was like having my
heart torn from me to see him go. He was very calm and brave, though I am
sure he knew, and once, when I sat beside him, just put out his hand to
mine and said: 'Don't grieve overmuch, little daughter; I trust you to turn
all your sorrow to noble uses.' He spoke only once of you, dear mother,
but then it was to say: 'Tell her--I forgive. Tell her not to reproach
herself.' And then--it was the saddest, sweetest summing up, and it will
comfort you--'She was like a child.' At the end he simply went--sleeping,
unconscious. Oh, mother, mother!--forgive these tears, I am weak.... He
lies now, up-stairs, looking so beautiful--like that boyish portrait, you
remember, with the uplifted, solemn gaze--only deeper, more peaceful and
without the ardor....

"Darling mother, don't bother a bit about me. Eddy and Jack will help me in
everything, all our friends are wonderful to us.--Day after to-morrow we
are to carry him to his rest.--After that, when I feel a little stronger, I
will write again. Eddy goes to you directly after the funeral. If you need
me, cable for me at once. I have many ties and many claims here, but I will
leave them all to spend the winter with you, if you need me. For you may
not feel that you care to come to us, and perhaps it will be easier for you
to bear it over there, where you have so many friends and have made your
life. So if I can be of any help, any comfort, don't hesitate, mother dear.

"And--oh, I want to say it so lovingly, my arms around you--don't fear
that I have any hardness in my heart toward you. I loved him--with all
my soul--as you know; but if, sometimes, seeing his patient pain, I have
judged you, perhaps, with youth's over-severity,--all that is gone now. I
only feel our human weakness, our human need, our human sorrow. Remember,
darling, that our very faults, our very mistakes, are the things that may
help us to grow higher. Don't sink into a useless self-reproach. 'Turn your
sorrow to noble uses.' Use the past to light you to the future. Build on
the ruins, dear one. You have Eddy and me to live for, and we love you. God
bless you, my darling mother.

"IMOGEN."

This letter, written in a large, graceful and very legible hand, was being
read for the third time by the bereaved wife as she sat in the drawing-room
of a small house in Surrey on a cold November evening. The room was one of
the most finished comfort, comfort its main intention, but so thoroughly
attained that beauty had resulted as if unconsciously. The tea-table, the
fire, the wide windows, their chintz curtains now drawn, were the points
around which the room had so delightfully arranged itself. It was a room
a trifle overcrowded, but one wouldn't have wanted anything taken away,
the graceful confusion, on a background of almost austere order, gave the
happiest sense of adaptability to a variety of human needs and whims. Mrs.
Upton had finished her own tea, but the flame still burned in waiting under
the silver urn; books and reviews lay in reach of a lazy hand; lamps,
candle-light and flowers made a soft radiance; a small _griffon_ dozed
before the fire. The decoration of the room consisted mainly in French
engravings from Watteau and Chardin, in one or two fine black lacquer
cabinets and in a number of jars and vases of Chinese porcelain, some
standing on the floor and some on shelves, the neutral-tinted walls a
background to their bright, delicate colors.

Mrs. Upton was an appropriate center to so much ease and beauty. In deep
black though she was, her still girlish figure stretched out in a low
chair, her knees crossed, one foot held to the fire, she did not seem
to express woe or the poignancy of regret. The delicate appointments of
her dress, the freshness of her skin, her eyes, bright and unfatigued,
suggested nothing less than a widow plunged in remorseful grief. Her
eyes, indeed, were thoughtful, her lips, as she read her daughter's
communication, grave, but there was much discrepancy between her own aspect
and the letter's tone, and, letting it drop at last, she seemed herself
aware of it, sighing, glancing about her at the Chinese porcelain, the
tea-table, the dozing dog. She didn't look stricken, nor did she feel so.
The first fact only vaguely crossed her mind; the latter stayed and her
face became graver, sadder, in contemplating it. She contemplated it for a
long time, going over a retrospect in which her dead husband's figure and
her own were seen, steadily, sadly, but without severity for either.

Since the shock of the announcement, conveyed in a long, tender cable over
a week ago, she had had no time, as it were, to cast up these accounts with
the past. Her mind had known only a confused pain, a confused pity, for
herself and for the man whom she once had loved. The death, so long ago, of
that young love seemed more with her than her husband's death, which took
on the visionary, picture aspect of any tragedy seen from a distance, not
lived through. But now, in this long, firelit leisure, that was the final
summing of it all. She was grave, she was sad; but she could feel no
severity for herself, and, long ago, she had ceased to feel any for poor
Everard. They had been greatly mistaken in fancying themselves made for
each other, two creatures could hardly have been less so; but Everard had
been a good man and she,--she was a harmless woman. Both of them had meant
well. Of course Everard had always, and for everything, meant a great deal
more than she, in the sense of an intentional shaping of courses. She had
always owned that, had always given his intentions full credit; only, what
he had meant had bored her--she could not find it in herself now to fix on
any more self-exonerating term. After the first perplexed and painful years
of adjustment to fundamental disappointment she had at last seen the facts
clearly and not at all unkindly, and it seemed to her that, as far as her
husband went, she had made the best of them. It was rather odious of her,
no doubt, to think it now, but it seemed the truth, and, seen in its light,
poor little Imogen's exhortations and consolations were misplaced. Once or
twice in reading the letter she had felt an inclination to smile, an
inclination that had swiftly passed into compunction and self-reproach.

Yes, there it was; she could find very little of self-reproach within her
in regard to her husband; but in regard to Imogen her conscience was not
easy, and as her thoughts passed to her, her face grew still sadder and
still graver. She saw Imogen, in the long retrospect,--it was always
Imogen, Eddy had never counted as a problem--first as a child whom she
could take abroad with her for French, German, Italian educational
experiences; then as a young girl, very determined to form her own
character, and sure, with her father to second her assurance, that
boarding-school was the proper place to form it. Eddy was also at school,
and Mrs. Upton, with the alternative of flight or an unbroken tête-à-tête
with her husband before her, chose the former. There was no breach, no
crash; any such disturbances had taken place long before; she simply slid
away, and her prolonged absences seemed symbols of fundamental and long
recognized divisions. She came home for the children's holidays; built,
indeed, the little house among the Vermont hills, so that she might, as it
were, be her husband's hostess there. She hoped, through the ambiguous
years, for Imogen's young-womanhood; looking forward to taking her place
beside her when the time came for her first steps in the world. But here,
again, Imogen's clear-cut choice interfered. Imogen considered girlish
frivolities a foolish waste of time; she would take her place in the world
when she was fully equipped for the encounter; she was not yet equipped to
her liking and she declared herself resolved on a college course.

Imogen had been out of college for three years now, but the routine of Mrs.
Upton's life was unchanged. The rut had been made too deep for her to climb
out of it. It had become impossible to think of reentering her husband's
home as a permanent part of it. Eddy was constantly with her in England
in the intervals of his undergraduate life; but how urge upon Imogen more
frequent meetings when her absence would leave the father desolate? The
summers had come to be their only times of reunion and Mrs. Upton had more
and more come to look forward to them with an inward tremor of uncertainty
and discomfort. For, under everything, above everything, was the fact, and
she felt herself now to be looking it hard in the face, that Imogen had
always, obviously, emphatically, been fondest of her father. It had been
from the child's earliest days, this more than fondness, this placid
partizanship. In looking back it seemed to her that Imogen had always
disapproved of her, had always shown her disapproval, gently, even
tenderly, but with a sad firmness. Her liberation from her husband's
standard was all very well; she cared nothing for Imogen's standard either,
in so far as it was an echo, a reflection; only, for her daughter not to
care for her, to disapprove of her, to be willing that she should go out of
her life,--there was the rub; and the fact that she should be considering
it over a tea-table in Surrey while Imogen was battling with all the somber
accompaniments of grief in New York, challenged her not to deny some
essential defect in her own maternity. She was an honest woman, and after
her hour of thought she could not deny it, though she could not see clearly
where it lay; but the recognition was but a step to the owning that she
must try to right herself. And at this point,--she had drawn a deep breath
over it, straightening herself in her chair,--her friends came in from
their drive and put an end to her solitude.

For the first years of her semi-detached life Mrs. Upton had been as gay as
a very decorous young grass-widow can be. Her whole existence, until her
marriage, which had dropped, or lifted, her to graver levels, had been
passed among elaborate social conditions, and wherever she might go she
found the protection of a recognized background. She had multitudes of
acquaintances and these surrounding nebulæ condensed, here and there, into
the fixed stars of friendship. Not that such condensations were swift or
frequent. Mrs. Upton was not easily intimate. Her very graces, her very
kindnesses, her sympathy and sweetness, were, in a manner, outposts about
an inner citadel and one might for years remain, hospitably entertained,
yet kept at a distance. But the stars, when they did form, were very fixed.
Of such were the two friends who now came in eager for tea, after their
nipping drive: Mrs. Pakenham, English, mother of a large family, wife of
a hard-worked M.P. and landowner; energetically interested in hunting,
philanthropy, books and people; slender and vigorous, with a delicate,
emaciated face, weather-beaten to a pale, crisp red, her eyes as blue as
porcelain, her hair still gold, her smile of the kindest, and Mrs. Wake,
American, rosy, rather stout, rather shabby, and extremely placid of
mien. Mrs. Pakenham, after her drive, was beautifully tidy, furred as to
shoulders and netted as to hair; Mrs. Wake was much disarranged and came
in, smiling patiently, while she put back the disheveled locks from her
brow. She was childless, a widow, very poor; eking out her insufficient
income by novel-writing; unpopular novels that dealt, usually, with gloomy
themes of monotonous and disappointed lives. She was, herself, anything but
gloomy.

She gave her friend, now, swift, short glances, while, standing before
her, her back to the fire, she put her hair behind her ears. She had
known Valerie Upton from childhood, when they had both been the indulged
daughters of wealthy homes, and through all the catastrophes and
achievements of their lives they had kept in close touch with each other.
Mrs. Wake's glances, now, were fond, but slightly quizzical, perhaps
slightly critical. They took in her friend, her attitude, her beautifully
"done" hair, her fresh, sweet face, so little faded, even her polished
finger-nails, and they took in, very unobtrusively, the American letter on
her lap. It was Mrs. Pakenham who spoke of the letter.

"You have heard, then, dear?"

"Yes, from Imogen."

Both had seen her stunned, undemonstrative pain in the first days of the
bereavement; the cables had supplied all essential information. Her quiet,
now, seemed to intimate that the letter contained no harrowing details.

"The poor child is well, I hope?"

"Yes, I think so; she doesn't speak much of herself; she is very brave."

Mrs. Pakenham, a friend of more recent date, had not known Mr. Upton, nor
had she ever met Imogen.

"Eddy was with her, of course," said Mrs. Wake.

"Yes, and this young Mr. Pennington, who seems to have become a great
friend. May Smith and Julia Halliwell, of course, must have helped her
through it all. She says that people are very kind." Mrs. Upton spoke
quietly. She did not offer to show the letter.

"Jack Pennington. Imogen met him when she went last year to Boston. You
remember old Miss Pennington, his great-aunt, Valerie."

"Very well. But this Jack I've never met."

"He is, I hear, devoted to Imogen."

"So I infer."

"And the very nicest kind of young man, though over-serious."

"I inferred that, too."

"And now," said Mrs. Wake, "Eddy will be here on Saturday; but what of
Imogen?"

"Imogen says that she will come over at once, if I want her."

"Far the best plan. She will live with you here--until she marries Mr.
Pennington, or some other devotee," said Mrs. Pakenham comfortably.

Mrs. Upton looked up at her. "No, I shall go to her, until she marries Mr.
Pennington or some other devotee."

There was after this a slight pause, and it was Mrs. Pakenham who broke it
with undiminished cheerfulness. "Perhaps, on the whole, that will be best,
for the present. Of course it's a pity to have to shut up your home, just
as you are so nicely installed for the winter. But, you mustn't let her
delay, my dear, in getting married. You can't wait over there indefinitely,
you know."

"Ah, it's just that that I must do," said Mrs. Upton.

There was, again, silence at this, perhaps over a further sense of fitness,
but in it Mrs. Pakenham's eyes met Mrs. Wake's in a long interchange. Mrs.
Upton, in the event of Imogen "delaying," would not stay; that was what,
plainly, it intimated.

"Of course," said Mrs. Pakenham, after some moments of this silent
acquiescence and silent skepticism, "that will make it very evident why you
didn't stay before."

"Not necessarily. Imogen has no one with her now; my preferences as to a
home would naturally go down before such an obvious duty."

"So that you will simply take up all the threads, yours and hers?"

"I shall try to."

"You think she'll like that?" Mrs. Pakenham inquired.

"Like what?" Mrs. Upton rather quickly asked.

"That you should take up her threads. Isn't she very self-reliant? Hasn't
her life, the odd situation, made her so?"

At this Mrs. Upton, her eyes on the fire, blushed; faintly, yet the
deepening of color was evident, and Mrs. Pakenham, leaning impulsively
forward, put her hand on hers, saying, "Dear Valerie, I don't mean that
you're responsible!"

"But I am responsible." Mrs. Upton did not look at her friend, though her
hand closed gently on hers.

"For nothing with which you can reproach yourself, which you can even
regret, then. It's well, altogether well, that a girl should be
self-reliant and have her own threads."

"Not well, though," said Mrs. Wake, folding the much-entangled veil she had
removed, "that a daughter should get on so perfectly without her mother."

"Really, I don't know about that"--Mrs. Pakenham was eager in generous
theories--"not well for us poor mothers, perhaps, who find it difficult to
believe that we are such background creatures."

"Not well for the daughter," Mrs. Wake rejoined. "In this case I think that
Imogen has been more harmed than Valerie."

"Harmed!" Mrs. Pakenham exclaimed, while Valerie Upton's eyes remained
fixed on the fire. "How can she have been harmed? From all I hear of her
she is the pink of perfection."

"She is a good girl."

"You mean that she's suffered?"

"No, I don't think that she has suffered."

Mrs. Wake was evidently determined to remain enigmatical; but Valerie Upton
quietly drew aside her reserves. "That is the trouble, you think; she
hasn't."

"That is a symptom of the trouble. She doesn't suffer; she judges. It's
very harmful for a young girl to sit in judgment."

"But Valerie has seen her so much!" Mrs. Pakenham cried, a little shocked
at the other's ruthlessness. "Three months of every year--almost."

"Three months when they played hostess to each other. It was really Valerie
who was the guest in the house when Imogen and her father were there. The
relation was never normal. Now that poor Everard is gone, the necessary
artificiality can cease. Valerie can try her hand at being a mother, not a
guest. It will do both her and Imogen good."

"That's just the conclusion I had come to. That's just how I had been
seeing it." The fresh tea-pot was brought in at this juncture, and, as she
spoke, Valerie roused herself to measure in the tea and pour on the boiling
water. She showed them, thus, more fully, the grace, the freshness, the
look of latent buoyancy that made her so young, that made her, even now, in
her black dress and with her gravity, remind one of a flower, submerged,
momentarily, in deep water, its color hardly blurred, its petals delicately
crisp, its fragrance only needing air and sunlight to diffuse itself. For
all the youthfulness, a quality of indolent magic was about her, a soft
haze, as it were, woven of matured experience, of detachment from youth's
self-absorption, of the observer's kindly, yet ironic, insight. Her figure
was supple; her nut-brown hair, splendidly folded at the back of her head,
was hardly touched with white; her quickly glancing, deliberately pausing,
eyes were as clear, as pensive, as a child's; with almost a child's candor
of surprise in the upturning of their lashes. A brunette duskiness in the
rose of lips and cheeks, in the black brows, in the fruit-like softness of
outline, was like a veil drawn across and dimming the fairness that paled
to a pearly white at throat and temples. Her upper lip was ever so faintly
shadowed with a brunette penciling of down, and three _grains de beauté_,
like tiny patches of velvet, seemed applied with a pretty coquetry, one on
her lip and two high on her cheek, where they emphasized and lent a touch
of the Japanese to her smile. Even her physical aspect carried out the
analogy of something vivid and veiled. She was clear as day, yet melting,
merged, elusive, like the night; and in her glance, in her voice, was that
mingled brightness and shadow. When she had given them their tea she left
her friends, taking her toasted little dog, languid and yawning, under her
arm, and, at a sharp yelp from this petted individual, his paw struck by
the opening of the door, they heard her exclaiming in contrition over him,
"Darling lamb! did his wicked mother hurt him!"

Mrs. Pakenham and Mrs. Wake sipped their tea for some time in silence, and
it was Mrs. Pakenham who voiced at last the thought uppermost for both of
them, "I wonder how Sir Basil will take it."

"Everard's death, you mean, or her going off?"

"Both."

"It's obvious, I think, that if he doesn't follow her at once it will only
be because he thinks that now his chance has come he will make it surer by
waiting."

"It's rather odious of me to think about it at all, I suppose," Mrs.
Pakenham mused, "but one can't help it, having seen it all; having seen
more than either of them have, I'm quite sure, poor, lovely dears."

"No, one certainly can't help it," Mrs. Wake acquiesced. "Though I,
perhaps, should have been too prudish to own to it just now--with poor
Everard hardly in his grave. But that's the comfort of being with a frank,
unscrupulous person like you; one gets it all out and need take no
responsibility."

Mrs. Pakenham smiled over her friend's self-exposure and helped her to
greater comfort with a still more crude, "It will be perfect, you know, if
he does succeed. I suppose there's no doubt that he will."

"I don't know; I really don't know," Mrs. Wake mused.

"One knows well enough that she's tremendously fond of him,--it's just that
that she has taken her stand on so beautifully, so gracefully."

"Yes, so beautifully and so gracefully that while one does know that, one
can't know more--he least of all. He, I'm pretty sure, knows not a scrap
more,"

"But, after all, now that she's free, that is enough."

"Yes--except--".

"Really, my dear, I see no exception. He is a delightful creature, as
sound, as strong, as true; and if he isn't very clever, Valerie is far too
clever herself to mind that, far too clever not to care for how much more
than clever he is."

"Oh, it's not that she doesn't care--"

"What is it, then, you carping, skeptical creature? It's all perfect. An
uncongenial, tiresome husband--and she need have no self-reproach about
him, either--finally out of the way; a reverential adorer at hand; youth
still theirs; money; a delightful place--what more could one ask?"

"Ah," Mrs. Wake sighed a little, "I don't know. It's not, perhaps, that one
would ask more, but less. It's too pretty, too easy, too _à propos_; so
much so that it frightens me a little. Valerie has, you see, made a mess of
it. She has, you see, spoiled her life, in that aspect of it. To mend it
now, so completely, to start fresh at--how old is she?--at forty-six, it's
just a little glib. Somehow one doesn't get off so easily as that. One
can't start so happily at forty-six. Perhaps one is wiser not to try."

"Oh, nonsense, my dear! It's very American, that, you know, that picking of
holes in excellent material, furbishing up your consciences, running after
your motives as if you were ferrets in a rat-hole. If all you have to say
against it is that it's too perfect, too happy,--why, then I keep to my own
conviction. She'll be peacefully married and back among us in a year."

Mrs. Wake seemed to acquiesce, yet still to have her reserves. "There's
Imogen, you know. Imogen has to be counted with."

"Counted with! Valerie, I hope, is clever enough to manage that young
person. It would be a little too much if the daughter spoiled the end of
her life as the husband spoiled the beginning."

"You are a bit hard on Everard, you know, from mere partizanship. Valerie
was by no means a misused wife and his friends may well have thought him a
misused husband; Imogen does, I'm sure. She has, perhaps, a right to feel
that, as her father's representative, her mother owes her something in the
way of atonement."

"It does vex me, my dear, to have you argue like that against your own
convictions. It was all his fault,--one only has to know her to be sure of
it. He made things unbearable for her."

"It was hardly his fault. He couldn't help being unbearable."

"Well--certainly _she_ couldn't help it!" cried Mrs. Pakenham, laughing
as if this settled it. She rose, putting her hands on the mantelpiece and
warming her foot preparatory to her departure; and, summing up her cheerful
convictions, she added: "I'm sorry for the poor man, of course; but, after
all, he seems to have done very much what he liked with his life. And I
can't help being very glad that he didn't succeed in quite spoiling hers.
Good luck to Sir Basil is what I say."



III


Mrs. Upton was in the drawing-room next morning when Sir Basil Thremdon
was announced. She had not seen this old friend and neighbor since the
news of her bereavement had reached her, and now, rising to meet him, a
consciousness of all that had changed for her, a consciousness, perhaps
more keen, of all that had changed for him, showed in a deepening of her
color.

Sir Basil was a tall, spare, stalwart man of fifty, the limpid innocence of
his blue eyes contrasting with his lean, aquiline countenance. His hair and
mustache were bleached by years to a light fawn-color and his skin tanned
by a hardy life to a deep russet; and these tints of fawn and russet
predominated throughout his garments with a pleasing harmony, so that in
his rough tweeds and riding-gaiters he seemed as much a product of the
nature outside as any bird or beast. The air of a delightfully civilized
rurality was upon him, an air of landowning, law-dispensing, sporting
efficiency; and if, in the fitness of his coloring, he made one think of a
fox or a pheasant, in character he suggested nothing so much as one of the
deep-rooted oaks of his own park. His very simplicity and uncomplexity of
consciousness was as fresh, as wholesome, as genially encompassing, as full
summer foliage. One rested in his shade.

He was an inarticulate person and his eyes, now, in their almost seared
solicitude, spoke more of sympathy and tenderness than his halting tongue.
He ended by repeating a good many times that he hoped she wasn't too
frightfully pulled down. Mrs. Upton said that she was really feeling very
well, though conscious that her sincerity might somewhat bewilder her
friend in his conceptions of fitness, and they sat down side by side on a
small sofa near the window.

We have said that for the first years of her freedom Mrs. Upton had been
very gay. Of late years the claims on her resources from the family across
the Atlantic had a good deal clipped her wings, and, though she made a
round of spring and of autumn visits, she spent her time for the most part
in her little Surrey house, engaged desultorily in gardening, study, and
the entertainment of the friend or two always with her. She had not found
it difficult to fold her wings and find contentment in the more nest-like
environment. She had never been a woman to seek, accepting only, happily,
whatever gifts life brought her; and it seemed as natural to her that
things should be taken as that things should be given. But with the
renouncement of more various outlooks this autumnal quietness, too, had
brought its gift, discreet, delicate, a whispered sentence, as it were,
that one could only listen to blindfolded, but that, once heard, gave one
the knowledge of a hidden treasure. Sir Basil had been one of the reasons,
the greatest reason, for her happiness in the Surrey nest. It was since
coming there to live that she had grown to know him so well, with the
slow-developing, deep-rooted intimacy of country life. The meadows and
parks of Thremdon Hall encompassed all about the heath where Valerie
Upton's cottage stood among its trees. They were Sir Basil's woods that ran
down to her garden walls and Sir Basil's lanes that, at the back of the
cottage, led up, through the heather, to the little village, a mile or so
away. She had met Sir Basil before coming to live there, once or twice in
London, and once or twice for week-ends at country-houses; but he was not a
person whom one came really to know in drawing-room conditions; indeed, at
the country-houses one hardly saw him except at breakfast and dinner; he
was always hunting, golfing, or playing billiards, and in the interludes to
these occupations one found him a trifle somnolent. It was after settling
quite under his wing--and that she was under it she had discovered only
after falling in love with the little white cottage and rushing eagerly
into tenancy--that she had found out what a perfect neighbor he was; then
come to feel him as a near friend; then, as those other friends had termed
it, to care for him.

Valerie Upton, herself, had never called it by any other name, this feeling
about Sir Basil; though it was inevitable, in a woman of her clearness of
vision, that she should very soon recognize a more definite quality in Sir
Basil's feeling about her. That she had always kept him from naming it more
definitely was a feat for which, she well knew it, she could allow herself
some credit. Not only had it needed, at some moments, dexterity; it had
needed, at others, self-control. Self-control, however, was habitual
to her. She had long since schooled herself into the acceptance of her
stupidly maimed life, seeing herself in no pathetic similes at all, but,
rather, as a foolish, unformed creature who, partly through blindness,
partly through recklessness, had managed badly to cripple herself at the
outset of life's walk, and who must make the best of a hop-skip-and-jump
gait for the rest of it. She had felt, when she decided that she had a
right to live away from Everard, that she had no right to ask more of
fortune than that escape, that freedom. One paid for such freedom by
limiting one's possibilities, and she had never hesitated to pay. Never to
indulge herself in sentimental repinings or in sentimental musings, never
to indulge others in sentimental relationships, had been the most obvious
sort of payment; and if, in regard to Sir Basil, the payment had sometimes
been difficult, the reward had been that sense of unblemished peace, that
sense of composure and gaiety. It was enough to know, as a justification
of her success, that she made him happy, not unhappy. It was enough to
know that she could own freely to herself how much she cared for him, so
much that, finding him funny, dear, and dull, she was far fonder of his
funniness, of his dullness, than of other people's cleverness. He made
her feel as if, on that maimed, that rather hot and jaded walk, she had
come upon the great oak-tree and sat down to rest in its peaceful shadow,
hearing it rustle happily over her and knowing that it was secure strength
she leaned against, knowing that the happy rustle was for her, because she
was there, peaceful and confident. So it had all been like a gift, a sad,
sweet secret that one must not listen to except with blindfolded eyes. She
had never allowed the gift to become a burden or a peril. And now, to-day,
for the first time, it was as though she could raise the bandage and look
at him.

She sat beside him in her widow's enfranchising blackness and she couldn't
but seer at last, how deep was that upwelling, inevitable fondness. So
deep that, gazing, as if with new and dazzled eyes, she wondered a little
giddily over the long self-mastery; so deep that she almost felt it as a
strange, unreal tribute to trivial circumstance that, without delay, she
should not lean her head against the dear oak and tell it, at last, that
its shelter was all that she asked of life. It was necessary to banish
the vision by the firm turning to that other, that dark one, of her dead
husband, her grief-stricken child, and, in looking, she knew that while it
was so near she could not dwell on the possibilities of freedom. So she
talked with her friend, able to smile, able, once or twice, to use toward
him her more intimate tone of affectionate playfulness.

"But you are coming back--directly!" Sir Basil exclaimed, when she told him
that she expected her boy in a few days and that they would sail for New
York together.

Not directly, she answered. Before very long, she hoped. So many things
depended on Imogen.

"But she will live with you now, over here."

"I don't think that she will want to leave America," said Valerie. "I don't
think, even, that I want her to."

"But this is your home, now," Sir Basil protested, looking about, as though
for evidences of the assertion, at the intimate comforts of the room. "You
know that you are more at home here than there."

"Not now. My home, now, is Imogen's."

Sir Basil appeared to reflect, and then to put aside reflection as, after
all, inapplicable, as yet, to the situation.

"Well, I must pay America a visit," he said with an unemphatic smile. "I've
not been there for twenty years, you know. I'll like seeing it again, and
seeing you--in Miss Imogen's home."

Valerie again flushed a little. In some matters Sir Basil was anything but
dull, and his throwing, now, of the bridge was most tactfully done. He
intended that she should see it solidly spanning the distance between them
and only time was needed, she knew, to give him his right of walking over
it, and her right--but that was one of the visions she must not look at.
A great many things lay between now and then, confused, anxious, perhaps
painful, things. The figure of Imogen so filled the immediate future that
the place where Sir Basil should take up his thread was blotted into an
almost melancholy haze of distance. But it was good to feel the bridge
there, to know him so swift and so sure.

"She is very clever, your girl, isn't she? I've always felt it from what
you've told me," he said, defining for himself, as she saw, the future
where they were to meet.

"Very, I think."

"Very learned and artistic. I'm afraid she'll find me an awful Philistine.
You must stand up for me with her."

"I will," Valerie smiled, adding, "but Imogen is very pretty, too, you
know."

"Yes, I know; one can see that in the photographs," said Sir Basil. There
were several of these standing about the room and he get up to look at
them, one after the other--Imogen in evening, in day dress, all showing her
erect slenderness, her crown of hair, her large, calm eyes.

"She looks kind but very cool, you know," he commented. "She would take one
in at a great rate; not find much use for an every-day person like me."

"Oh, you won't be an every-day person to Imogen. And her great point, I
think, is her finding a use for everybody."

"Making them useful to her?"

"No--to themselves--to the world in general."

"Improving them, do you mean?"

"Well, yes, I should say that was more it. She likes to give people a
lift."

"But--she's so very young. How does she manage it?" Sir Basil queried over
the photograph, whose eyes dwelt on him while he spoke,

"Oh, you'll see," Valerie smiled a little at his pertinacity. "I've no
doubt that she will improve you."

"Well," said Sir Basil, recognizing her jocund intention, "she's welcome
to try. As long as you are there to see that she isn't too hard on me." He
dismissed Imogen, then, from his sight and thoughts, replacing her on the
writing-table and suggesting that Mrs. Upton should take a little walk with
him. His horse had been put into the stable and he could come back for him.
Mrs. Upton said that when they came back he must stay to lunch and that be
could ride home afterward, and this was agreed on; so that in ten minutes'
time Mrs. Pakenham and Mrs. Wake, from their respective windows, were able
to watch their widowed friend walking away across the heather with Sir
Basil beside her.

Neither spoke much as they wended their way along the little paths of
silvery sand that intersected the common. The day was clear, with a milky,
blue-streaked sky; the distant foldings of the hills were of a deep,
hyacinthine blue.

From time to time Sir Basil glanced at the face beside him, thoughtful to
sadness, its dusky fairness set in black, but attentive, as always, to the
sights and sounds of the well-loved country about her. He liked to watch
the quick glancing, the clear gazing, of her eyes; everything she looked at
became at once more significant to him--the tangle of tenacious roots that
thrust through the greensand soil of the lane they entered, the suave, gray
columns of the beeches above, the blurred mauves and russets of the woods,
the swift, awkward flight of a pheasant that crossed their way with a
creaking whir of wings, the amethyst stars of a bush of Michaelmas daisies,
showing over a whitewashed cottage wall, the far blue distance before them,
framed in the tracery of the beech-boughs. He knew that she loved it all
from the way she looked at it and, almost indignantly, as though against
some foolish threat, he felt himself asseverating, "It _is_ her home--she
knows it--the place she loves like that." And when they had made their wide
round, down the lane, up a grassy dell, into his park, where he had to show
her some trees that must come down; when they had skirted the park, along
its mossy, fern-grown wall, and under its overhanging branches, until, once
more, they were on the common and the white of Valerie's cottage glimmered
before them, he voiced this protest, saying to her, as he watched her eyes,
dwell on the dear little place, "You could never bear to leave all this for
good--even if, even if we let you; you know you couldn't."

Valerie looked round at him, and in his face, against its high background
of milk-streaked blue, she saw the embodiment of his words; it was that,
not the hyacinthine hills, not the beech-woods, not the heathery common,
not even the dear cottage, that she could not bear to leave for good. But
since this couldn't be said, she consented to the symbol of it that he put
before her, that "all this," and answered, as he had hoped, "No, indeed; I
couldn't think of leaving it all, for good."



IV


It was an icy, sunny day, and Imogen Upton and Jack Pennington were walking
up and down the gaunt wharf, not caring to take refuge from the cold in the
stifling waiting-rooms. The early morning sky was still pink. The waters of
the vast harbor were whitened by blocks and sheets of ice. The great city,
drawn delicately on the pink in white and pearl, marched its fantastic
ranges of "sky-scrapers"--an army of giants--down to the water's edge.
And, among all the rose and gold and white, the ocean-liner, a glittering
immensity of helpless strength, was being hauled and butted into her dock,
like some harpooned sea-monster, by a swarm of blunt-nosed, agile little
tugs.

Jack Pennington thought that he had never seen Imogen looking so
"wonderful" as on this morning. The occasion, to him, was brimming over
with significance. He had not expected to share it, but Imogen had spoken
with such sweetness of the help that he would give her if he could be with
her in her long, cold waiting, that, with touched delight, he found himself
in the position of a friend so trusted, so leaned upon, that he could
witness what there must be of pain and fear for her in this meeting of her
new life. The old life was with them both. Her black armed her in it, as it
were, made her valiant to meet the new. And for him that old life, the life
menaced, though so trivially, by the arriving presence, seemed embodied in
the free spaces of the great harbor, the soaring sky of frosty rose, the
grotesque splendor of the giant city, the glory, the ugliness of the
country he loved, the country that made giant-like, grotesque cities, and
that made Imogens.

She was the flower of it all--the flower and the so much more than flower.
He didn't care a fig, so he told himself, about the mere fact of her being
beautiful, finished, in her long black furs, her face so white, her hair so
gold under her little hat. She wasn't to be picked and placed high, above
the swarming ugliness. No, and that was why he cared for her when he had
ceased to care for so many pretty girls--her roots were deep; she shared
her loveliness; she gave; she opened; she did not shut away. She was the
promise for many rather than the guerdon of the few. Jack's democracy was
the ripe fruit of an ancestry of high endeavor and high responsibility. The
service of impersonal ends was in his blood, and no meaner task had ever
been asked of him or of a long line of forebears. He had never in his own
person experienced ugliness; it remained a picture, seen but not felt by
him, so that it was not difficult for him to see it with the eyes of faith
as glorified and uplifted. It constituted a splendid burden, an ennobling
duty, for those who possessed beauty, and without that grave and happy
right to serve, beauty itself would lose all meaning. He often talked about
democracy to Imogen. She understood what he felt about it more firmly, more
surely, than he himself did; for, where he sometimes suspected himself of
theory, she acted. She, too, rejoiced in the fundamental sameness of the
human family that banded it together in, essentially, the same great
adventure--the adventure of the soul.

Imogen understood; Imogen rejoiced; Imogen was bound on that adventure--not
only with him, but, and it was this that gave those wide wings to his
feeling for her, with _them_--with all the vast brotherhood of humanity.
Now and then, to be sure, faint echoes in her of her father, touches of
youthful assurance, youthful grandiloquence, stirred the young man's sense
of humor; but it was quickly quelled by an irradiating tenderness that
showed her limitations as symptoms of an influence that, in its foolish
aspects, he would not have had her too clearly recognize; her beautiful,
filial devotion more than compensated for her filial blindness--nay,
sanctified it; and her heavenly face had but to turn on him for him to
envelop all her little solemnities and importances in a comprehending
reverence. Jack thought Imogen's face very heavenly. He was an artist by
profession, as we have said, taking himself rather seriously, too, but the
artistic perception was so strongly colored by ethical and intellectual
preoccupations that the spontaneous satisfaction in the Eternal Now of mere
beauty was rarely his. Certainly he saw the flower-like texture of Imogen's
skin; the way in which the light azured its whiteness and slid upon its
child-like surfaces. He saw the long oval of the face, the firm and gentle
lips, drawn with a delicate amplitude, the broad hazel eyes set under
a level sweep of dark eyebrow and outlined, not shadowed, so clear, so
wide they were, by the dark lashes. But all the fresh loveliness of line,
surface, color, remained an intellectual appreciation; while what touched,
what penetrated, were the analogies she suggested, the lovely soul that the
lovely face vouched for. The oval of her face and the charming squaring
of her eyes, so candid, so unmysterious, made him think of a Botticelli
Madonna; and her long, narrow hands, with their square finger-tips, might
have been the hands of a Botticelli angel holding a votive offering of
fruit and flowers. His mind seldom rested in her beauty, passing at once
through it to what it expressed of purity, strength and serenity. It
expressed so much of these that he had never paused at the portals, as it
were, to feel the defects of her face. Imogen's nose was too small; neat
rather than beautiful. Her eyes, with the porcelain-like quality of their
white, the jewel-like color of their irises, were over-large; and when
she smiled, which she did often, though with more gentleness than gaiety,
she showed an over-spacious expanse of large white teeth. For the rest,
Imogen's figure was that of the typical well-groomed, well-trained,
American girl, long-limbed, slender, rounded; in her carriage a girlish
air of consciousness; the poise of her broad shoulders and slender hips
expressing at once hygienic and fashionable ideals that reproved slack
gaits and outlines. As they walked, as they talked, watching the slow
advance of the great steamer; as their eyes rested calmly and intelligently
on each other, one could see that the girl's relation to this dear friend
was untouched by any trace of coquetry and that his feeling for her, if
deep, was under most perfect control.

"It's over a year, now, since I saw mama," Imogen was saying, as they
turned again from a long scrutiny of the crowded decks--the distance was as
yet too great for individual recognition. "She didn't come over this summer
as usual,--poor dear, how bitterly she must regret that now, though it was
hardly her fault, papa and I fixed on our Western trip for the summer. It
seems a very long time to me."

"And to me," said Jack. "It's only a year since I came really to know you;
but how much longer it seems than that."

"It's strange that we should know each other so well and yet that you have
never seen my mother," said Imogen. "Is that she? No, she is not so tall.
Poor darling, how tired and sad she must be."

"You are tired and sad, too," said Jack.

"Ah, but I am young--youth can bear so much better. And, besides, I don't
think that my sadness would ever be like mama's. You see, in a way, I have
so much more in my life. I should never sit down in my sadness and let it
overwhelm me. I should use it, always. It is strange that grief should so
often make people selfish. It ought, rather, to open doors for us and give
us wider visions."

He was so sure that it had performed these offices for her, looking, as he
now looked, at her delicate profile, turned from him while she gazed toward
the ship, that he was barely conscious of the little tremor of amusement
that went through him for the triteness of her speech. Such triteness was
beautiful when it expressed such reality.

"I suppose that you will count for more, now, in your mother's life," he
said,--that Imogen should, seemingly, have counted for so little had been
the frequent subject of his indignant broodings. "She will make you her
object."

Imogen smiled a little. "Isn't it more likely that I shall make her mine?
one of mine? But you don't know mama yet. She is, in a way, very
lovely--but so much of a child. So much younger--it seems funny to say it,
but it's true--than I am."

"Littler," Jack amended, "not younger."

But Imogen, while accepting the amendment, wouldn't accept the negation.

"Both, I'm afraid," she sighed.

"Will she like it over here?" Jack mused more than questioned.

"Hardly, since she has always lived as little here as she could manage."

"Perhaps she will want to take you back to England," he surmised,
conscious, while he spoke the almost humorous words, of a very firm
determination that she shouldn't do so.

Imogen paused in her walk at this, fixing upon him eyes very grave indeed.
"Take me back to England? Do you really think that I would consent to that?
Surely you know me better, Jack?"

"I think I do. Only you might yield against your will, if she insisted."

"Surely you know me well enough to know that I would never yield against my
will, if I knew that my will was right. I might sacrifice a great deal for
mama--I am prepared to--but never that; Never," Imogen repeated. "There are
some things that one must not sacrifice. Her living in England is a whim;
my living in my own country is part of my religion."

"I know, of course, dear Imogen. But," Jack was argumentative, "as to
sacrifice, say that it was asked of you, by right. Say, for instance, that
you married a man who had to take you out of your own country?"

She smiled a little at the stupid surmise. "That hardly applies. Besides, I
would never marry a man who was not one of my own people, who was not a
part--as I am a part--of the Whole I live for. My life is here, all its
meaning is here--you know it--just as yours is."

"I love to know it--I was only teasing you."

He loved to know it, of course. Yet, while it answered to all his own
theories that the person should be so much less to her than the idea the
person lived for, he couldn't but feel at times, with a rueful sense of
unworthiness, that this rare capacity in her might apply in most unwelcome
fashion to his own case. In Jack, the deep wells of feeling and emotion
were barred and bolted over by a whole complicated system of reticences;
by a careful sense of responsibility, not only toward others, but toward
himself; by a disciplined self-control that was a second nature. But, he
could see it well enough, if such, deep wells there were in Imogen, they,
as yet, were in no need of barring and bolting. Her eyes could show a quiet
acceptance of homage, a placid conviction of power, a tender sympathy, but
the depth and trouble of emotion was not yet in them. He often suspected
that he was nearer to her when he talked to her of causes than when he
ventured, now and then, to talk about his feelings. There was always the
uncomfortable surmise that the man who could offer a more equipped faculty
for the adventure of the soul, might altogether outdistance him with
Imogen. By any emotion, any appeal or passion that he might show, she would
remain, so his intuition at moments told him, quite unbiased; while she
weighed simply worth against worth, and weight--in the sense of strength of
soul--against weight. And it was this intuition that made self-control and
reticence easier than they might otherwise have been. His theories might
assure him that such integrity of purpose was magnificent; his manly
common-sense told him that in a wife one wanted to be sure of the taint of
personal preference; so that, while he knew that he would never need to
weigh Imogen's worth against anybody else's, he watched and waited until
some unawakened capacity in her should be able happily to respond to the
more human aspects of life. Meanwhile the steamer had softly glided into
the dock and the two young people at last descried upon the crowded decks
the tall, familiar figure of Eddy Upton, like Imogen in his fairness,
clearness, but with a more masculine jut of nose and chin, sharper lines of
brow and cheek and lip. And beside Eddy--Jack hardly needed the controlled
quiet of Imogen's "There's mama" to identify the figure in black.

She leaned there, high and far, on the deck of the great steamer that
loomed above their heads, almost ominous in its gigantic bulk and darkness;
she leaned there against the rosy sky, her face intent, searching, bent
upon the fluttering, shouting throng beneath; and for Jack, in this first
impression of her, before she had yet found Imogen, there was something
pathetic in the earnestness of her searching gaze, something that softened
the rigors of his disapprobation. But, already, too, he fancied that he
caught the expected note of the frivolous in the outline of her fur-lined
coat, in the grace of her little hat.

Still she sought, her face pale and grave, while, with an imperceptible
movement, the steamer glided forward, and now, as Imogen raised her muff
in a long, steady wave, her eyes at last found her daughter and, smiling,
smiling eagerly down upon them, she leaned far over the deck to wave her
answer. She put her hand on her son's arm, pointing them out to him, and
Eddy, also finding them, smiled too, but with his rather cool kindness,
raising his hat and giving Jack a recognizing nod. It was then as if he
introduced Jack. Jack saw her question, saw him assent, and her smile went
from Imogen to him enveloping him with its mild radiance.

"She is very lovely, your mother, as you say," Jack commented, feeling a
little breathless over this silent meeting of forces that he must think of
as hostile, and finding nothing better to say.

Imogen, who had continued steadily to wave her muff, welcoming, but for her
part unsmiling, answered, "Yes."

"I hope that she won't mind my being here, in the way, after a fashion,"
said Jack.

"She won't mind," said Imogen.

He knew the significance of her voice; displeasure was in its gentleness,
a quiet endurance of distress. It struck him then, in a moment, that it
was rather out of place for Mrs. Upton to smile so radiantly at such a
home-coming. Not that the smile had been a gay one. It had shone out after
her search for her daughter's face; for the finding of it and for him it
had continued to shine. It was like sunlight on a sad white day of mist; it
did not dispel mournfulness, it seemed only to irradiate it. But--to have
smiled at all. With Imogen's eyes he saw, suddenly, that tears would have
been the more appropriate greeting and, in looking back at the girl once
more, he saw that her own, as if in vicarious atonement, were running down
her cheeks. She, then, felt a doubled suffering and his heart hardened
against the woman who had caused it.

The two travelers had disappeared and the decks were filled with the
jostling hurry of final departure. Jack and Imogen moved to take their
places by the long gangway that slanted up from the dock.

He said nothing to her of her tears, silent before this subtle grief;
perhaps, for all his love and sympathy, a little disconcerted by its
demonstration, and it was Imogen who spoke, murmuring, as they stood
together, looking up, "Poor, poor papa."

Yes, that had been the hurt, to see her dead put aside, almost forgotten,
in the mother's over-facile smile.

The passengers came trooping down the gangway, with an odd buoyancy of step
caused by the steep incline, and Jack, for all his expectancy, had eyes,
appreciative and critical, for the procession of his country-people. Stout,
short men, embodying purely economic functions, with rudimentary features,
slightly embossed, as it were, upon pouch-like faces. Thin, young men,
whose lean countenances had somewhat the aspect of steely machinery, apt
for swift, ruthless, utilitarian processes. Bloodless old men, many of
whom looked like withered, weary children adorned with whitened hair.
The average manhood of America, with its general air of cheap and hasty
growth, but varied here and there by a higher type; an athletic collegian,
auspiciously Grecian in length of limb, width of brow, deep placidity
of eye; varied by a massive senatorial head or so, tolerant, humorous,
sagacious; varied by a stalwart Westerner, and by the weedier scholar,
sensitive, self-conscious, too much of the spiritual and too little of the
animal in the meager body and over-intelligent face.

There was a certain discrepancy, in dress and bodily well-being, between
the feminine and the masculine portion of the procession; many of the heavy
matrons, wide-hipped, well-corseted, benignant and commanding of mien, were
ominously suggestive, followed as they were by their fragile husbands,
of the female spider and her doomed, inferior, though necessary, mate.
The young girls of the happier type resembled Imogen Upton in grace, in
strength, in calm and in assurance; the less fortunate were sharp, sallow,
anxious-eyed; and the children were either rosy, well-mannered, and
confident, or ill-mannered, over-mature, but also, always, confident.

Highly equipped with every graceful quality of his race, not a touch of the
male spider about him, Eddy's head appeared at last, proud, delicate and
strong. His mother, carrying a small dog, was on his arm, and, as she
emerged before the eyes that watched for her, she was smiling again at
something that Eddy had said to her. Then her eyes found them, Jack and
Imogen, so near now, sentinels before the old life, that her smile, her
aspect, her very loveliness, seemed to menace, and Jack felt that she
caught a new gravity from the stern gentleness of Imogen's gaze; that
she adjusted her features to meet it; that, with a little shock, she
recognized the traces of weeping on her daughter's face and saw, in his own
intentionally hardened look, that she had tuned herself to a wrong pitch
and had been, all unconsciously, jarring.

He couldn't but own that her readjustment, if readjustment it was, was very
beautifully done. Tears rose in her eyes, too. He saw, as she neared them,
that her face was pale and weary; it looked ever so gently, ever so sadly,
perhaps almost timidly, at her daughter, and as she came to them she put
out her hand to Imogen, laid hold on her and held her without speaking
while they all moved away together.

The tears of quick sympathy had risen to Jack's own eyes and he stood apart
while the mother and daughter kissed. After that, and when they had gone
on a little before him and Eddy, Mrs. Upton turned to him, and if she
readjusted herself she didn't, as it were, retract, for the smile again
rested on him while Eddy presented him to her. He saw then that she had
suffered, though with a suffering different from any that he would have
thought of as obvious. How or what she had suffered he could not tell, but
the pale, weary features, for all their smile, reassured him. She wasn't,
at all events, a heartless, a flippant woman.

Eddy and Mrs. Upton's maid remained behind to do battle with the
custom-house, and Jack, with Imogen and her mother, got into the capacious
cab that was waiting for them.

The streets in this mean quarter were deep in mud. The snow everywhere had
been trampled into liquid blackness, and the gaunt horses that galloped
along the wharfs dragging noisy vans and carts were splashed all over. It
might have been some sordid quarter of an Italian town that they drove
through, so oddly foreign were the disheveled houses, their predominant
color a heavy, glaring red. Men in white uniforms were shoveling snow from
the pavements. The many negro countenances in the hurrying crowds showed
blue tints in the bitter air. Coming suddenly to a wide, mean avenue, when
the carriage lurched and swayed on the street-car tracks, they heard,
mingled in an inconceivably ugly uproar, the crash and whine of the
cable-cars about them, and the thunder of the elevated-railway above their
heads.

Jack, sensitive to others' impressions, wondered if this tumultuous
ugliness made more dreary to Mrs. Upton the dreary circumstances of her
home-coming. There was no mitigation of dreariness to be hoped for from
Imogen, who was probably absorbed in her own bitter reflections. She gazed
steadily out of the window, replying only with quiet monosyllables to her
mother's tentative questions; her face keeping its look of endurance. One
could infer from it that had she not so controlled herself she must have
wept, and sitting before the mother and daughter Jack felt much awkwardness
in his position. If their meeting were not to be one with more conventional
surface he really ought not to have been invited to share it. Imogen, poor
darling, had all his sympathy; she hadn't reckoned with the difficulties;
she hadn't reckoned with that hurting smile, with the sharp reawakening of
the vicarious sense of wrong; but, all the same, before her look, her
silence, he could but feel for her mother, and feel, too, a keener
discomfort from the fact that his inopportune presence must make Mrs.
Upton's discomfort the greater.

Mrs. Upton stroked her tiny dog, who, fulfilling all Jack's conceptions of
costly frivolity, was wrapped in a well-cut coat, in spite of which he was
shivering, from excitement as much as from cold, and her bright, soft gaze
went from him to Imogen. She didn't acquiesce for long in the silence.
Leaning forward to him presently she began to ask him questions about
Boston, the dear old great-aunt; to make comments, some reminiscent,
some interrogative, upon the scenes they passed through; to lead him so
tactfully into talk that he found himself answering and assenting almost
as fluently as if Imogen in her corner had not kept those large, sad eyes
fixed on the passing houses. So mercifully did her interest and her ease
lift him from discomfort that, with a sharp twinge of self-reproach, he
more than once asked himself if Imogen found something a little disloyal
in his willingness to be helped. One couldn't, all the same, remain at
the dreadful depth where her silence plunged them; such depths were too
intimate. Mrs. Upton had felt that. It was because she was not intimate
that she smiled upon him; it was because she intended to hold them both
firmly on the surface that she was so kind. He watched her face with
wonder, and a little fear, for which he was angry with himself. He noted
the three _grains de beauté_ and the smile that seemed to break high on
her cheek, in a small nick, like that on the cheek of a Japanese doll.
She frightened him, made him feel shy, yet made him feel at ease, too,
as though her own were contagious; and his impression of her was softly
permeated with the breath of violets. Jack disapproved of perfumes; but he
really couldn't tell whether it wasn't Mrs. Upton's gaze only, the sweet
oddity of her smile, that, by some trick of association, suggested the
faint haze of fragrance.

They reached the long, far sweep of Fifth Avenue, piled high with
snow--dazzling in white, blue, gold--on either side, and they turned
presently into a street of brownstone houses, houses pleasant, peaceful,
with an air of happy domesticity.

Mrs. Upton's eyes, while the cab advanced with many jolts among the heaps
of snow, fixed themselves on one of these houses, and Jack fancied that he
saw in her glance a whole army of alarmed memories forcibly beaten back.
Here she had come as a bride and from here, not three weeks ago, her dead
husband had gone with only his children beside him. Now, if ever, she
should feel remorse. Whether she did or not he could not tell, but the eyes
with which she greeted her old home were not happy.

Imogen, as they alighted, spoke at last, asking him to stay to lunch. He
recognized magnanimity in her glance. He had seemed to ignore her hurt, and
she forgave him, understanding his helplessness. But though her mother
seconded her invitation with, "Do, you must be so tired and hungry, after
all these hours," Jack excused himself. Already he thought, a woman with
such a manner as Mrs. Upton's--if manner were indeed the word for such a
gliding simplicity--must wonder what in the name of heaven he did there.
She was simple, she was gliding; but she was not near.

"May I come in soon and see you?" he said to Imogen while they paused at
the foot of the stone steps. And, with at last her own smile, sad but
sweet, for him, she answered, "As soon as you will, dear Jack. You know how
much of strength and comfort you mean to me."



V


Jack, however, did not go for three or four days, giving them plenty of
time, as he told himself, to get used to each other's excesses or lacks of
grief. And as he waited for Imogen in the long drawing-room that had been
the setting of so many of their communings, he wondered what adjustment the
mother and daughter had come to.

The aspect of the drawing-room was unchanged; changelessness had always
been for him its characteristic mark; in essentials, he felt sure, it had
not changed since the days of old Mrs. Upton, the present Mrs. Upton's long
deceased mother-in-law. Only a touch here and there showed the passage of
time. It was continuous with the dining-room, so that it was but one long
room that crossed all the depth of the house, tall windows at the back,
heavily draped, echoing dimly the windows of the front that looked out
upon the snowy, glittering street. The inner half could be shut away by
folding-doors, and its highly polished sideboard, chairs, table, a silver
épergne towering upon it, glimmered in a dusky element that relegated
it, when not illuminated for use, to a mere ghostly decorativeness.
By contrast, the drawing-room was vivid. Its fringed and buttoned
furniture,--crimson brocade set in a dark carved wood, the dangling lusters
of the huge chandelier, the elaborate Sèvres vases on the mantelpiece,
flanking a bronze clock portentously gloomy, expressed old Mrs. Upton's
richly solid ideals; but these permanent uglinesses distressed Jack less
than the pompous and complacent taste of the later additions. A pretentious
cabinet of late Italian Renaissance work stood in a corner; the dark marble
mantelpiece, that looked like a sarcophagus, was incongruously draped with
an embroidered Italian cope, and a pseudo-Correggio Madonna, encompassed
with a wilderness of gilt frame, smiled a pseudo-smile from the embossed
paper of the walls. It was one of Jack's little trials to hear Imogen refer
to this trophy with placid conviction.

Yet, for all its solemn stupidity, the room was not altogether unpleasing;
it signified something, were it only an indifference to fashion, It was,
funnily, almost Spartan, for all the carving, the cushioning, the crimson,
so little concession did it make to other people's standards or to small,
happy minor uses. Mr. Upton and his daughter had not changed it because
they had other things to think of; and they thought of these things not in
the drawing-room but in the large library up-stairs. There one could find
the personal touches, that, but for the cope, the cabinet, the Correggio,
were lacking below. There the many photographs from the Italian primitives,
the many gracious Donatello and Delia Robbia bas-reliefs, expressed
something of Imogen, too, though Jack always felt that Imogen's esthetic;
side expressed what was not very essential in her.

While he waited now, he had paused at last before two portraits. He had
often so paused while waiting for Imogen. To-night it was with a new
curiosity.

They hung opposite the Correggio and on either side of the great mirror
that rose from the mantelpiece to the cornice. One was of a young man
dressed in the fashion of twenty-five years before, dressed with a rather
self-conscious negligence. He was pale, earnest, handsome, though his nose
was too small and his eyes too large. A touch of the histrionic was in
his attitude, in his dark hair, tossed carelessly, in the unnecessarily
weighty and steady look of his dark eyes, even in the slight smile of
his firm, full lips, a smile too well-adapted, as it were, to the needs
of any interlocutor. Beneath his arm was a book; a long, distinguished
hand hanging slackly. Jack turned away with a familiar impatience. In
twenty-five years Mr. Upton had changed very little. It was much the same
face that he had known; in especial, the slack, self-conscious hand, the
smile--always so much more for himself than for you--were familiar. The
hand, the necktie, the smile, so deep, so dark, so empty, were all, Jack
was inclined to suspect, that there had ever been of Mr. Upton.

The other portrait, painted with the sleek convention of that earlier
epoch, was of a woman in a ball-dress. The portrait was by a French master
and under his brush the sitter had taken on the look of a Feuillet heroine.
She was gay, languid, sentimental, and extraordinarily pretty. Her hair was
dressed in a bygone fashion, drawn smoothly up from the little ears, coiled
high and falling across her forehead in a light, straight fringe. Her
wonderful white shoulders rose from a wonderfully low white bodice; a
bracelet of emeralds was on her arm, a spray of jasmine in her fingers;
she was evidently a girl, yet in her apparel was a delicate splendor, in
her gaze a candid assurance, that marked her as an American girl. And she
expressed charmingly, with sincerity as it were, a frivolous convention.
This was Miss Cray, a year or so before her marriage with Mr. Upton. The
portrait had been painted in Paris, where, orphaned, lovely, but not
largely dowered, she had, under the wing of an aunt domiciled in France
for many years and bearing one of its oldest names, failed to make the
brilliant match that had been hoped for her. This touch of France in
girlhood echoed an earlier impress. Imogen had told him that her mother
had been educated for some years in a French convent, deposited there
by pleasure-loving parents during European wanderings, and Imogen had
intimated that her mother's frequent returns to her native land had never
quite effaced alien and regrettable points of view. Before this portrait,
Jack was accustomed, not to impatience, but to a gaze of rather ironic
comprehension. It had always explained to him so much. But to-night he
found himself looking at it with an intentness in which was a touched
curiosity; in which, also, and once more he was vexed with himself for
feeling it, was an anxiety, almost a fear. Of course it hadn't been like,
even then, he was surer than ever of that to-night, with his memory of the
pale face smiling down at him and at Imogen from the deck of the great
steamer. The painter had seen the mask only; even then there had been more
to see. And sure, as he had never been before, of all that there must have
been besides to see, he wondered with a new wonder how she had come to
marry Mr. Upton.

He glanced back at him. Handsome? Yes. Distinguished? Yes; there was no
trace of the shoddy in his spiritual histrionics. He had been fired by
love, no doubt, far beyond his own chill complacency. Such a butterfly
girl, falling with, perhaps, bruised wings from the high, hard glare of
worldly ambitions, more of others for her than her own for herself--of that
he felt, also quite newly sure to-night--such a girl had thought Mr. Upton,
no doubt, a very noble creature and herself happy and fortunate. And she
had been very young.

He was still looking up at Miss Cray when Imogen came in. He felt sure,
from his first glance at her, that nothing had happened, during the
interval of his abstention, to deepen her distress. In her falling and
folding black she was serene and the look of untroubled force he knew so
well was in her eyes. She had taken the measure of the grown-up butterfly
and found it easy of management. He felt with relief that the mother could
have threatened none of the things they held dear. And, indeed, in his
imagination, her spirit seemed to flutter over them in the solid, solemn
room, reassuring through its very lightness and purposelessness.

"I am so glad to see you," Imogen said, after she had shaken his hand and
they had seated themselves on the sofa that stretched along the wall under
the Correggio. "I have been sorry about the other day."

"Oh!" he answered vaguely, not quite sure for what the regret was.

"I ought to have mastered myself; been more able to play the trivial part,
as you did; that was such real kindness in you, Jack, dear. I couldn't have
pretended gaiety, but I didn't intend to cast a gloom. It only became that,
I suppose, when I was--so hurt."

He understood now. "By there not being gloom enough?"

"If you like to put it so. To see her smile like that!"

Jack was sorry for her, yet, at the same time, sorry for the butterfly.

"Yes, I know how you must have felt. But, it was natural, you know. One
smiles involuntarily at a meeting, however sad its background. I believe
that _you_ would have smiled if she hadn't."

Imogen's clear eyes were upon him while he thus shared with her his sense
of mitigations and she answered without a pause: "Yes, I could have smiled
at her. That would have been different."

"You mean--that you had a right to smile?"

"I can't see how she _could_," said Imogen in a low voice, not answering
his question; thinking, probably, that it answered itself. And she went on:
"I was ready, you know, to help her to bear it all, with my whole strength;
but, and it is that that still hurts me so, she doesn't seem to know that
she needs help. She doesn't seem to be bearing anything."

Jack was silent, feeling here that they skirted too closely ground upon
which, with Imogen, he never ventured. He had brought from his study of the
portraits a keener sense of how much Mrs. Upton had to bear no longer.

"But," Imogen continued, oddly echoing his own sense of deeper insights, "I
already understand her so much better than I've ever done. I've never come
so near. Never seen so clearly how little there is to see. She's still
essentially that, you know," and she pointed to the French portrait that,
with softly, prettily mournful eyes, gazed out at them.

"The butterfly thing," Jack suggested rather than acquiesced.

"The butterfly thing," she accepted.

But Jack went on: "Not only that, though. There is, I'm very sure, more to
see. She is so--so sensible."

"Sensible?" again Imogen accepted. "Well, isn't that portrait sensible?
Doesn't that lovely, luxurious girl see and want all the happy, the easy
things of life? It is sensible, of course, clearly to know what they are,
and firmly to make for them. That's just what I recognize now in her, that
all she wants is to make things easy, to _glisser_."

"Yes, I can believe that," he murmured, a little dazed by her clear
decisiveness; he often felt Imogen to be so much more clear-sighted, so
much more clever than himself when it came to judgments and insights, that
he could only at the moment acquiesce, through helplessness. "I suppose
that is the essential--the desire of ease."

"And it hurts you that I should be able to see it, to say it, of my
mother." Her eyes, with no hardness, no reproach, probed him, too. She
almost made him feel unworthy of the trust she showed him.

"No," he said, smiling at her, "because I know that it's only to a friend
who so understands you, who so cares for all that comes into your life."

"Only to such a friend, indeed," she returned gently.

"Have they been hard, these days?" he asked her, atoning to himself for the
momentary shrinking that she had detected.

"Yes, they have," she answered, "and the more so from my seeing all her
efforts to keep them soft; as if it was ease _I_ wanted! But I have faced
it all."

"What else has there been to face?"

She said nothing for some moments, looking at him with a thoughtful
openness that, he felt, was almost marital in its sharing of silence.

"She's against everything, everything," she said at last.

"You mean in the way we feared?--that she'll try to change things?"

"She'll not seem to try. She'll seem to accept. But she's against my
country; against my life; against me."

"Well, if she accepts, or seems to, that will make it easy for you. There
will be nothing to fight, to oppose."

"Don't use her word, Jack. She will make it easy on the surface; but it's
that that will be so hard for me to bear; the surface ease over the hidden
discord."

"You may resolve the discord. Give her time to grow her roots. How can you
expect anything but effort now, in this soil that she can't but associate
with mistakes and sorrows?"

"The mistakes and sorrows were in her, not in the soil," said Imogen; "but
don't think that though I find it hard, I don't face it; don't think that
through it all I haven't my faith. That is just what I am going to do: give
her time, and help her to grow with all the strength and love there is in
me."

Something naughty, something rebellious and dissatisfied in him was vaguely
stirring and muttering; he feared that she might see into him again and
give it a name, although he could only have given it the old name of
a humorous impatience with her assured rightness. Really, she was so
over-right that she almost irked and irritated him, dear and beloved as she
was. One could only call it over-rightness, for wasn't what she said the
simple truth, just as he had always seen it, just as she had always known
that, with her, he saw it? She had this queer, light burden suddenly on her
hands, so much more of a burden for being so light, and if her own weight
and wisdom became a little too emphatic in dealing with it, how could he
reproach her? He didn't reproach her, of course; but he was afraid lest she
should see that he found her, well, a little funny.

"What does she do with herself?" he asked, turning hastily from his
consciousness of amusement.

Imogen's pearly face, bent on him with such confidence, made him, once
more, ashamed of himself.

"She has seen a good many of her friends. We have had quite a stream of
fashionable, furbelowed dames trooping up the steps; very few of them
people that papa and I cared to keep in touch with; you know his dislike
for the merely pleasure-seeking side of life. And she has seen the dear
Delancy Pottses, too, and was very nice to them, one of the cases of
seeming to accept; I saw well enough that they were no more to her than
quaint insects she must do her duty by. And she has been very busy with
business, closeted every day with Mr. Haliwell. And she takes a walk with
me when I can spare the time, and for the rest of the day she sits in her
room dressed in a wonderful tea-gown and reads French memoirs, just as she
used always to do."

Jack was smiling, amused, now, in no way that needed hiding, by her smooth
flow of description. "You must take her down to the girls' club some day,"
he suggested, "and to see your cripples and all the rest of it. Get her
interested, you know; give her something else to think of besides French
memoirs."

"Indeed, I'm going to try to. Though among my girls I'm not sure that she
would be a very wise experiment. Such an _ondulée_, _parfumée_,
polished person with such fashionable mourning would be, perhaps, a little
resented."

"You dress very charmingly, yourself, my dear Imogen."

"Oh, but quite differently. Mamma's is fashion at its very flower of subtle
discretion. My clothes, why, they are of any time you will." She swept
aside her wing-like sleeves to show the Madonna-like lines of her dress. "A
factory girl could wear just the same shape if she wanted to."

"And she doesn't want to, foolish girl? She wants to wear your mother's
kind instead?"

"She would dimly recognize it as the unattainable perfection of what she
wants. It would pierce."

"Make for envy, you think?"

"Well, I can't see that she would do them any _good_," said Imogen, now
altogether in her lighter, happier mood, "but since they may do _her_ good
I must, I think, take her there some day."

"And am I to do her some good? Am I to see her to-night?" Jack asked,
feeling that though her humor a little jarred on him he could do nothing
better than echo it. Imogen, now, had one of her frankest, prettiest looks.

"Do you know, she is almost too discreet, poor dear," she said. "She wants
me to see that she perfectly understands and sympathizes with the American
freedom as to friendships between men and women, so that she vacates
the drawing-room for my people just as a farmer's wife would do for her
daughter's young men. She hasn't asked me even a question about you, Jack!"

Her gaiety so lifted and warmed him that he was prompted to say that Mrs.
Upton would have to, very soon, if the answer to a certain question that he
wanted to ask Imogen were what he hoped for. But the jocund atmosphere of
their talk seemed unfit for such a grave allusion and he repressed the
sally.



VI


When Jack went away, after tea, Imogen remained sitting on the sofa,
looking up from time to time at the two portraits, while thoughts, quiet
and mournful, but not distressing, passed through her mind. An interview
with Jack usually left her lapped about with a warm sense of security; she
couldn't feel desolate, even with the greatness of her loss so upon her,
when such devotion surrounded her. One deep need of her was gone, but
another was there. Life, as she felt it, would have little meaning for her
if it had not brought to her deep needs that she, and she alone, could
satisfy. With Jack's devotion and Jack's need to sustain her, it wasn't
difficult to bear with a butterfly. One had only to stand serenely in one's
place and watch it hover. It was, after all, as if she had strung herself
to an attitude of strength only to find that no weight was to come crushing
down upon her. The pain was that of feeling her mother so light.

"Poor papa," Imogen murmured more than once, as she gazed up into the
steady eyes; "what a fate it was for you--to be hurt all your life by a
butterfly." But he had been far, far too big to let it spoil anything. He
turned all pain to spiritual uses. What sorrow there was had always been,
most of all, for her.

And then--and here was the balm that had perfumed all her grief with
its sacred aroma--she, Imogen, had been there to fill the emptiness for
him. She had always been there, it seemed to her, as, in her quiet, sad
retrospect, she looked back, now, to the very beginnings of consciousness.
From the first she had felt that her place was by his side; that, together
they stood for something and against somebody. In this very room, so
unchanged--she could even remember the same dull thump of the bronze clock,
the blazing fire, the crimson curtains drawn on a snowy street,--had
happened the earliest of the episodes that her memory recalled as having
so placed her, so defined her attitude, even for her almost babyish
apprehension. She had brought down her dolls from her nursery, after tea,
and ranged them on the sofa, while her father walked up and down the room,
his hands in his pockets, his head thrown back, reciting something to
himself, some poem, or stately fragment of antique oratory. He paused now
and then as he passed her and laid his hand upon her head and smiled down
at her. Then the lovely lady of the portrait,--just like the portrait
in Imogen's recollection,--had come, all in white, with wonderful white
shoulders, holding a fan and long white gloves in her hand, and, looking
round from her dolls, small Imogen had known in a moment that displeasure
was in the air. "You are not dressed!" Those had been her mother's first
words as she paused on the threshold; and then, echoing her father's words
with amazement and anger, "You are not coming!"

The dialogue that followed, vivid on her mother's side as sparks struck
from steel, mild as milk on her father's, had been lost upon her; but
through it all she had felt that he must be right, in his gentleness, and
that she, in her vividness, must be wrong. She felt that for herself, even
before, turning as if from an unseemly contest, her father said, looking
down at her with a smile that had a twinge of tension, "_You_ would rather
go and see sick and sorry people who wanted you, than the selfish, the
foolish, the overfed,--wouldn't you, beautiful little one?"

She had answered quickly, "Yes, papa," and had kept her eyes on him, not
looking at her mother, knowing in her childish soul that in so answering,
so looking, she shared some triumph with him.

"I'll say you're suddenly ill, then?" had come her mother's voice, but with
a deadened note, as though she knew herself defeated.

"Lie? No. I must ask you, Valerie, never to lie for me. Say the truth, that
I must go to a friend who needs me; the truth won't hurt them."

"But it's unbelievable, your breaking a dinner engagement, at the last
hour, for such a reason," the wife had said.

"Unbelievable, I've no doubt, to the foolish, the selfish, the over-fed.
Social conventions and social ideals will always go down for me, Valerie,
before realities, such realities as brotherhood and the need of a lonely
human soul."

While he spoke he had lifted, gently, Imogen's long, fair curls, and
smoothed her head, his eyes still holding her eyes, and when her mother
turned sharply and swept out of the room, the sense of united triumph
had made him bend down to her and made her stretch her arms tip to him,
so that, in their long embrace, he seemed to consecrate her to those
"realities" that the pretty, foolish mother flouted. That had been her
initiation and her consecration.

After that, it could not have been many years after, though she had brought
to it a far more understanding observation, the next scene that came up for
her was a wrangle at lunch one day, over the Delancy Pottses--if wrangle it
could be called when one was so light and the other so softly stern. Imogen
by this time had been old enough to know for what the Pottses counted. They
were discoveries of her father's, Mr. Potts a valuable henchman in that
fight for realities to which her father's life was dedicated. Mr. Potts
wrote articles in ethical reviews about her father's books--they never
seemed to be noticed anywhere else--and about his many projects for reform
and philanthropy. Both he and Mrs. Potts adored her father. He lent them,
indeed, all their significance; they were there, as it were, only for
the purpose of crystallizing around his magnetic center. And of these
good people her mother had said, in her crisp, merry voice, "I hate
'em,"--disposing of the whole question of value, flipping the Pottses away
into space, as it were, and separating herself from any interest in them.
Even then little Imogen had comprehendingly shared her father's still
indignation for such levity. Hate the excellent Pottses, who wrote so
beautifully of her father's books, so worshiped all that he was and did,
so tenderly cherished her small self? Imogen felt the old reprobation as
sharply as ever, though the Pottses had become, to her mature insight,
rather burdensome, the poor, good, dull, pretentious dears, and would be
more so, now that their only brilliant function, that of punctually,
coruscatingly, and in the public press, adoring her father, had been taken
from them. One need have no illusion as to the quality of their note;
it lacked distinction, serving only, in its unmodulated vehemence, the
drum-like purpose of calling attention to great matters, of reverberating,
so one hoped, through lethargic consciousness.

But Imogen loved the Pottses, so she told herself. To be sure of loving
the Pottses was a sort of pulse by which one tested one's moral health.
She still went religiously at least twice in every winter to their
receptions--funny, funny affairs, she had to own it--with a kindly smile
and a pleasant sense of benign onlooking at oddity. One met there young
girls dressed in the strangest ways and affecting the manners of budding
Margaret Fullers--young writers or musicians or social workers, and funny
frowsy, solemn young men who talked, usually with defective accents, about
socialism and the larger life over ample platefuls of ice-cream. Sweetness
and light, as Mrs. Potts told Imogen, was the note she tried for in her
reunions, and high endeavor and brotherly love.

Mrs. Potts was a small, stout woman, who held herself very straight indeed;
her hands, on festive occasions, folded on a lace handkerchief before her.
She had smooth, black hair, parted and coiled behind, and a fat face, pale
fawn-color in tint, encompassing with waste of cheek and chin such a small
group of features--the small, straight nose, the small, sharp eyes, the
small, smiling mouth--all placed too high, and spanned, held together, as
it were, by a _pince-nez_ firmly planted, like a bow-shaped ornament
pinning a cluster of minute trinkets on a large cushion.

Mr. Delancy Potts was tall, limp, blond, and, from years of only dubious
recognition, rather querulous. He had a solemn eye under a fringe of
whitened eyebrow, a long nose, that his wife often fondly alluded to as
"aristocratic" (they were keen on "blood," the Delancy Pottses), and a very
retreating chin that one saw sometimes in disastrous silhouette against the
light. Draped in the flowing fullness of hair and beard, his face showed a
pseudo-dignity.

Imogen saw the Pottses with a very candid eye, and her mind drifted from
that distant disposal of them to the contrast of the recent meeting,
recalling their gestures and postures as they sat, with an uneasy
assumption of ease, before her mother, of whom, for so many years, they had
disapproved more, almost, than they disapproved of municipal corruption and
"the smart set." As onlooker she had been forced to own that her mother's
manner toward them had been quite perfect. She had accepted them as her
husband's mourners; had accepted them as Imogen's friends; had, indeed, so
thoroughly accepted them, in whatever capacity they were offered to her,
that Imogen felt that a slight enlightenment would be necessary, and that
her mother must be made to feel that her own, even her father's acceptance
of the Pottses, had had always its reservations.

And some acceptances, some atonements, came too late. The Pottses had not
been the only members of the little circle gathered about her father who
had called forth her mother's wounding levity. She had taken refuge on many
other occasions in the half-playful, half-decisive, "I hate 'em," as if
to throw up the final barrier of her own perversity before pursuit. Not
that she hadn't been decent enough in her actual treatment, it was rather
that she would never take the Pottses, or any of the others--oddities she
evidently considered them-seriously; it was, most of all, that she would
never let them come near enough to try to take her seriously. She held
herself aloof, not disdainful, but indifferently gay, from her father's
instruments, her father's friends, her father's aims.

Later on, as Imogen grew into girlhood, her mother lost most of the gaiety
and all of the levity. Imogen guessed that storms, more violent than any
she was allowed to witness, intervened between young rebellion and the
cautious peace, the hostility that no longer laughed and no longer lost
its temper, but that, quiet, kind, observant, went its own way, leaving
her father to go his. The last memory that came up for her was of what had
followed such a storm. It seemed to mark an epoch, to close the chapter of
struggle and initiate that of acceptance. What the contest had been she
never knew, but she remembered in every detail its sequel, remembered lying
in bed in her placid, fire-lit room and hearing in her mother's room next
hers the sound of violent sobbing.

Imogen had felt, while she listened, a vague, alarmed pity, a pity
mingled with condemnation. Her father never lost his self-control and had
taught her that to do so was selfish; so that, as she listened to the
undisciplined grief, and thought that it might be well for her to go in to
her mother and console her, she thought, too, of the line that, tenderly,
she would say to her--for Imogen, now, was fourteen years old, with an
excellent taste in poetry:

    "The gods approve
  The depth, but not the tumult, of the soul."

It was a line her father often quoted to her and she always thought of him
when she thought of it.

But, just as she was rising to go on this errand of mercy, her father
himself had come in. He sat down in silence by her bed and put out his hand
to hers and then she seemed to understand all from the very contrast that
his silence made. The sobs they listened to were those of a passionate, a
punished child, of a child, too, who could use unchildlike weapons, could
cut, could pierce; she must not leave her father to go to it. After a
little while the sobs were still and, as her father, without speaking, sat
on, stroking her hair and hand, the door softly opened and her mother came
in. Imogen could see her, in her long white dressing-gown, with her wide
braids falling on either side, all the traces of weeping carefully effaced.
She often came in so to kiss Imogen good-night, gently, and with a slight
touch of shyness, as though she knew herself shut away from the inner
chamber of the child's heart, and the moment was their tenderest, for
Imogen, understanding, though powerless to respond, never felt so sorry
or so fond as then. But to-night her mother, seeing them there together
hand in hand, seeing that they must have listened to her own intemperate
grief,--their eyes gravely, unitedly judging her told her that,--seeing
that her husband, as at the very beginning, had found at once his ally,
drew back quickly and went away without a word. Whatever the cause of
contest, Imogen knew that in this silent confrontation of each other in her
presence was the final severance. After that her mother had acquiesced.

She acquiesced, but she yielded nothing, confessed nothing. One couldn't
tell whether she, too, judged, but one suspected it, and the dim sense
of an alien standard placed over against them more and more closely drew
Imogen and her father together for mutual sustainment. If, however, her
mother judged, she never expressed judgment; and if she felt the need of
sustainment, she never claimed it. It would, indeed, have been rather
fruitless to claim it from the fourth member of the family group. Eddy
seemed so little to belong to the group. As far as he went, to be sure,
he went always with her and against his father, but then Eddy never went
far enough to form any sort of a bulwark. A cheerful, smiling, hard young
pagan, Eddy, frankly bored by his father, coolly fond of his mother,
avoiding the one, but capable of little effective demonstration toward the
other. Eddy liked achievement, exactitude, a serene, smiling outlook, and
was happily absorbed in his own interests.

So it had all gone on,--Imogen traced it, sitting there in her quiet
corner, holding balances in fair, firm hands,--her mother drifting into a
place of mere conventionality in the family life; and Imogen, even now,
could not see quite clearly whether it had been she who had judged and
abandoned her husband, or he who had judged and put her aside. In either
case she could sum it up, her eyes lifted once more to the portrait's
steady eyes, with, "Poor, wonderful papa."

He was gone, the dear, the wonderful one, and she was left single-handed
to carry on his work. What this work was loomed largely, though vaguely,
for her. The three slender volumes, literary and ethical, were the only
permanent testament that her father had given to the world; and dealing, as
in the main they did, with ultimate problems, their keynote an illumined
democracy that saw in most of the results as yet achieved by his country a
base travesty of the doctrine, the largeness of their grasp was perhaps a
trifle loose. Imogen did not see it. Her appreciation was more of aims than
of achievements; but she felt that her father's writings were the body,
only, of his message; its spirit lived--lived in herself and in all those
with whom he had come in fruitful--contact. It was to hand on the meaning
of that spirit that she felt herself dedicated. Perfect, unflinching truth;
the unfaltering bearing witness to all men of his conception of right;
the seeing of her own personality as but an instrument in the service of
good--these were the chief words of the gospel. Life in its realest sense
meant only this dedication. To serve, to love, to be the truth. Her eyes
on her father's pictured eyes, Imogen smiled into them, promising him and
herself that she would not fail.



VII


It was in the library next morning that Valerie asked Imogen to join her,
and the girl, who had come into the room with her light, soft step, paused
to kiss her mother's forehead before going to the opposite seat.

"Deep in ways and means, mamma dear?" she asked her. "Why, you are quite
a business woman." "Quite," Valerie replied. "I have been going over
things with Mr. Haliwell, you know." She smiled thoughtfully at Imogen,
preoccupied, as the girl could see, by what she had to say.

Imogen was slightly ruffled by the flavor of assurance that she felt in
her mother, as of someone who, after gently and vaguely fumbling about for
a clue to her own meaning in new conditions, had suddenly found something
to which she held very firmly. Imogen was rejoiced for her that she
should find a field of real usefulness-were it only that of housekeeping
and seeing to weekly bills; but there was certainly a touch of the
inappropriate, perhaps of the grotesque, in any assumption on her mother's
part of maturity and competence. She therefore smiled back at her with
much the same tolerantly interested smile that a parent might bestow on a
child's brick-building of a castle.

"I'm so glad that you have that to give yourself to, mama dear," she said.
"You shall most certainly be our business woman and add figures and keep
an eye on investment to your heart's content. I know absolutely nothing of
the technical side of money--I've thought of it only as an instrument, a
responsibility, a power given me in trust for others."

Valerie, whose warmth of tint and softness of outline seemed dimmed and
sharpened, as though by a controlled anxiety, glanced at her daughter,
gravely and a little timidly. And as, in silence, she lightly dotted her
pen over the paper under her hand, uncertain, apparently, with what words
to approach the subject, it was Imogen, again, who spoke, kindly, but with
a touch of impatience.

"We mustn't be too long over our talk, dear. I must meet Miss Bocock at
twelve."

"Miss Bocock?" Valerie was vague. "Have I met her?"

"Not yet. She is a _protégée_ of mine--English--a Newnham woman--a
folk-lorist. I heard of her from some Boston friends, read her books, and
induced her to come over and lecture to us this winter. We are arranging
about the lectures now. I've got up a big class for her--when I say 'I,' I
mean, of course, with the help of all my dear, good friends who are always
so ready to back me up in my undertakings. She is an immensely interesting
woman; ugly, dresses tastelessly; but one doesn't think of that when one is
listening to her. She has a wonderful mind; strong, disciplined,
stimulating. I'm very happy that I've been able to give America to her and
her to America."

"She must be very interesting," said Valerie. "I shall like hearing her. We
will get through our business as soon as possible so that you may keep your
appointment." And now, after this digression, she seemed to find it easier
to plunge. "You knew that your father had left very little money, Imogen."

Imogen, her hands lightly folded in her lap, sat across the table, all mild
attention.

"No, I didn't, mama. We never talked about money, he and I."

"No; still--you spent it."

"Papa considered himself only a steward for what he had. He used his money,
he did not hoard it, mama dear. Indeed, I know that his feeling against
accumulations of capital, against all private property, unless used for the
benefit of all, was very strong."

"Yes," said Valerie, after a slight pause, in which she did not raise her
eyes from the paper where her pen now drew a few neat lines. "Yes. But
he has left very little for Eddy, very little for you; it was that I was
thinking of."

At this Imogen's face from gentle grew very grave.

"Mama dear, I don't think that you and papa would have agreed about the
upbringing of a man. You have the European standpoint; we don't hold with
that over here. We believe in equipping the man, giving him power for
independence, and we expect him to make his own way. Papa would rather have
had Eddy work on the roads for his bread than turn him into a _fainéant_."

Valerie drew her lines into a square before saying, "I, you know, with Mr.
Haliwell, am one of your trustees. He tells me that your father gave you a
great deal."

"Whatever I asked. He had perfect trust in me. Our aims were the same."

"And how did you spend it? Don't imagine that I'm finding fault."

"Oh, I know that you couldn't well do that!" said Imogen with a smile a
little bitter. "I spent very little on myself." And she continued, with
somewhat the manner of humoring an exacting child: "You see, I helped a
great many people; I sent two girls to college; I sent a boy--such a dear,
fine boy--for three years' art-study in Paris; he is getting on so well.
There is my girls' club on the East side, my girls' club in Vermont; there
is the Crippled Children's Home,--quite numberless charities I'm interested
in. It's been one thing after another, money has not lacked,--but time has,
to answer all the claims upon me. And then," here Imogen smiled again,
"I believe in the claims of the self, too, when they are disciplined
and harmonized into a larger experience. There has been music to keep
up; friends to see and to make things nice for; flowers to send to sick
friends; concerts to send poor friends to; dinners and lunches to give so
that friends may meet--all the thousand and one little things that a large,
rich life demands of one."

"Yes, yes," said Valerie, who had nodded at intervals during the list.
"I quite see all that. You are a dear, generous child and love to give
pleasure; and your father refused you nothing. It's my fault, too. My more
mercenary mind should have been near to keep watch. Because, as a, result,
there's very little, dear, very, very little."

"Oh, your being here would not have changed our ideas as to the right way
to spend money, mama. Don't blame yourself for that. We should have bled
_you_, too!"

"Oh, no, you wouldn't," Valerie said quickly. "I've too much of the
instinctive, selfish mother-thing in me to have allowed myself to be bled
for cripples and clubs and artistic boys. I don't care about them a bit
compared to you and Eddy. But this is all beside the mark. The question now
is, What are we to do? Because that generous, expensive life of yours has
come to an end, for the present at all events."

Imogen at this sat silent for some moments, fixing eyes of deep, and
somewhat confused, cogitation upon her mother's face.

"Why--but--I supposed that you _had_ minded for Eddy and me, mama," she
said at last.

"I have very little money, Imogen."

Imogen hesitated, blushing a little, before saying, "Surely you were quite
rich when papa married you."

"Hardly rich; but, yes, quite well off."

"And you spent it all--on yourself?"

Valerie's color, too, had faintly risen. "Not so much on myself, Imogen,
though I wish now that I had been more economical; but I was ignorant
of your father's rather reckless expenditure. In the first years of my
marriage, before the selfish mother-thing was developed in me, I handed a
good deal of my capital over to him, for his work, his various projects; in
order to leave him as free for these projects as possible, I educated you
and Eddy--that, too, came out of my capital. And the building of the house
in Vermont swallowed a good deal of money."

Imogen's blush had deepened. "Of course," she said, "there is no more
reckless expenditure possible--since you use the term, mama--than keeping
up two establishments for one family; that, of course, was your own choice.
But, putting that aside, you must surely, still, have a good deal left. See
how you live; see how you are taken care of, with a maid,--I've never had
a maid, papa, as you know, thought them self-indulgences,--see how you
dress," she cast a glance upon the refinements of her mother's black.

"How I dress, my child! May I ask what that dress you have on cost you?"

"I believe only in getting the best. This, for the best, was inexpensive.
One hundred dollars."

"Twenty pounds," Valerie translated, as if to impress the sum more fully on
her mind. "I know that clothes over here are ruinous. Now mine cost only
eight pounds and was made by a very little woman in London."

Imogen cast another glance, now of some helpless wonder, at the dress.

"Of course you are so clever about such things; I shouldn't wish to spend
my thought--and I couldn't spend my time--on clothes. And then the standard
of wages is so scandalously low in Europe; I confess that I would rather
not profit by it."

"I am a very economical woman, Imogen," said Valerie, with some briskness
of utterance. "My cottage in Surrey costs me fifty pounds a year. I keep
two maids, my own maid, a cook, a gardener; there's a pony and trap and a
stable-boy. I have friends with me constantly and pay a good many visits.
Yet my income is only eight hundred pounds a year."

"Eight hundred--four thousand dollars," Imogen translated, a note of sharp
alarm in her voice. "That, of course, would not be nearly enough for all of
us."

"Not living as you have, certainly, dear."

"But papa? Surely papa has left something! He must have made money at his
legal practice."

"Never much. His profession was always a by-issue with him. I find that his
affairs are a good deal involved; when all the encumbrances are cleared
off, we think, Mr. Haliwell and I, that we may secure an amount that will
bring our whole income to about five thousand dollars a year. If we go on
living in New York it will require the greatest care to be comfortable on
that. We must find a flat somewhere, unless you cared to live in England,
where we could be very comfortable indeed, without effort, on what we
have."

Imogen was keeping a quiet face, but her mother, with a pang of helpless
pity and compunction, saw tears near the surface, and that, to control
them, she fixed herself on the meaning of the last words. "Live out of my
own country! Never!"

"No, dear, I didn't think that you would want to; I didn't want it for you,
either; I only suggested it so that you might see clearly just where we
stand, and in case you might prefer it, with our limited means."

Imogen's next words broke out even more vehemently. "I can't leave this
house! I _can't_! It is my home." The tears ran down her face.

"My poor darling!" her mother exclaimed. She rose quickly and came round
the table to her, putting her arm around her and trying to draw her near.

But Imogen, covering her eyes with one hand, held her off. "It's wrong.
It's unfair. I should have been told before."

"Imogen, _I_ did not know. I was not admitted to your father's confidence.
I used to speak to you sometimes, you must remember, about being careful."

"I never thought about it. I thought he made a great deal--I thought you
had a great deal of money," Imogen sobbed.

"It _is_ my fault, in one sense, I know," her mother said, still standing
beside her, her hand on her shoulder. "If I had been here I could have
prevented some of it. But--it has seemed so inevitable." The tears rose in
Valerie's eyes also; she looked away to conquer them. "Don't blame me too
much, dear. I shall try to do my best now. And then, after all, it's not of
such tragic importance, is it? We can be very happy with what we have."

Imogen wept on: "Leave my home!"

"There, there. Don't cry so. We won't leave it. We will manage somehow. We
will stay on here, for a time at least--until you marry, Imogen. You will
probably marry," and Valerie attempted a softly rallying smile, "before so
very long."

But the attempt was an unfortunately timed one. "Oh, mama!
don't--don't--bring your horrible European point of view into _that_, too!"
cried Imogen.

"What point of view? Indeed, indeed, dear, I didn't mean to hurt you, to be
indiscreet--"

"The economic, materialistic, worldly point of view--that money problems
can be solved by a thing that is sacred, sacred!" Imogen passionately
declared, her face still hidden.

Her mother now guessed that the self-abandonment was over and that, with
recovered control, she found it difficult to pick up her usual dignity. The
insight added to her tenderness. She touched the girl's hair softly, said,
in a soothing voice, that she had meant nothing, nothing gross or
unfeeling, and, seeing that her nearness was not, at the moment, welcome,
returned to her own place at the other end of the table.

Imogen now dried her eyes. In the consternation that her mother's
statements had caused her there had, indeed, almost at once, arisen the
consoling figure of Jack Pennington, and she did not know whether she were
the more humiliated by her own grief, for such a mercenary cause, or by
this stilling of it, this swift realization that the cramped life need
last no longer, for herself, than she chose. To feel so keenly the need of
escape was to feel herself imprisoned by the new conditions; for never,
never for one moment, must the need of escape weigh with her in her
decision as to Jack's place in her life. She must accept the burden, not
knowing that it would ever be lifted, and with this acceptance the sense of
humiliation left her, so that she could more clearly see that she had had a
right to her dismay. Her crippled life would hurt not only herself, but all
that she meant to others--her beneficence, her radiance, her loving power;
so hurt it, that, for one dark moment, had come just a dart of severity
toward her father. The memory of her mother's implied criticism had
repulsed it; dear, wonderful, transcendentalist, she must be worthy of him
and not allow her thoughts, in their coward panic, to sink to the mother's
level. This was the deepest call upon her courage that had ever come to
her. Calls to courage were the very breath of the spiritual life. Imogen
lifted her heart to the realm of spirit, where strength was to be found,
and, though her mother, with those implied criticisms, had pierced her, she
could now, with her recovered tranquility of soul, be very patient with
her. In a voice slightly muffled and uncertain, but very gentle, she said
that she thought it best to live on in the dear home. "We must retrench in
other places, mama. I would rather give up almost anything than this. _He_
is here to me." Her tears rose again, but they were no longer tears of
bitterness. "It would be like leaving him."

"Yes, dear, yes; that shall be as you wish," said Valerie, who was deeply
considering what these retrenchments should be. She, too, was knowing a
qualm of humiliation over self-revelations. She had not expected that it
would be really so painful, in such trivial matters, to adjust herself to
the most ordinary maternal sacrifices. It only showed her the more plainly
how fatal, how almost fatal, it was to the right impulses, to live away
from family ties; so that at their first pressure upon her, in a place that
sharply pinched, she found herself rueful.

For the first retrenchment, of course, must be the sending back to
England of her dear, staunch Felkin, who had taken such care of her for
so many years. Her heart was heavy with the thought. She was very fond
of Felkin, and to part with her would be, in a chill, almost an ominous
way, like parting with the last link that bound her to "over there."
Besides,--Valerie was a luxurious woman,--unpleasant visions went through
her mind of mud to be brushed off and braid to be put on the bottoms of
skirts; stockings to darn-she was sure that it was loathsome to darn
stockings; buttons to keep in their places; all the thousand and one little
rudiments of life, to which one had never had to give a thought, looming,
suddenly, in the foreground of one's consciousness. And how very tiresome
to do one's own hair. Well, it couldn't be helped. She accepted the
accompanying humiliation, finding no refuge in Imogen's spiritual
consolations.

"Eddy leaves Harvard this spring and goes into Mr. Haliwell's office. He
will live with us here, then. And we can be very economical about food and
clothes; I can help little dressmakers with yours, you know," she said,
smiling at her child.

"Everything, mama, everything must be done, rather than leave this house."

"We mustn't let the girls' clubs suffer, either," Valerie attempted further
to lighten the other's gloomy resolution. "That's one of the first claims."

"I must balance all claims, with justice. I have many other calls upon me,
dear, and it will need earnest thought to know which to eliminate."

"Well, the ones you care about most are the ones we'll try to fit in."

"My caring is not the standard, mama. The ones that need me most are the
ones I shall fit in."

Imogen rose, drawing a long, sighing breath. Under her new and heavy
burden, her mother, in these suggestions for the disposal of her life,
was glib, assured. But the necessity for tenderness and forbearance was
strongly with her. She went round the table to Valerie, pressed her head to
her breast and kissed her forehead, saying, "Forgive me if I have seemed
hard, darling."

"No, dear, no; I quite understood all you felt," Valerie said, returning
the kiss. But, after Imogen had left her, she sat for a long time, very
still, her hand only moving, as she traced squares and circles on her
paper.



VIII


Jack thought that he had never seen Imogen looking graver than on that
night when he came again. Her face seemed calm only because she so
compressed and controlled all sorts of agitating things. Her mother was
with her in the lamp-lit library and he guessed already that, in any case,
Imogen, before her mother, would rarely show gaiety and playfulness. Gaiety
and playfulness would seem to condone the fact that her mother found so
little need of help in "bearing" the burden of her regret and of her
self-reproach. But, allowing for that fact, Imogen's gravity was more than
negative. It confronted him like a solemn finger laid on firmly patient
lips; he felt it dwell upon him like solemn eyes while he shook hands with
Mrs. Upton, whom he had not seen since the morning of her arrival.

Mrs. Upton, too, was grave, after a fashion; but her whole demeanor might
be decidedly irritating to a consciousness so burdened with a sense of
change as Imogen 'a evidently was. Even before that finger, those eyes,
into which he had symbolized Imogen's manner, Mrs. Upton's gravity could
break into a smile quite undisturbed, apparently, by any inappropriateness.
She sat near the lamp crocheting; soft, white wool sliding through her
fingers and wave after wave of cloudy substance lengthening a tiny baby's
jacket, so very small a jacket that Jack surmised it to be a gift for an
expectant mother. He further surmised that Mrs. Upton would be very nice to
expectant mothers; that they would like to have her abound.

Mrs. Upton would not curb her smile on account of Imogen's manner, nor
would she recognize it to the extent of tacitly excluding her from the
conversation. She seemed, indeed, to pass him on, in all she said, to
Imogen, and Jack, once more, found his situation between them a little
difficult, for if Mrs. Upton passed him on, Imogen was in no hurry to
receive him. He had, once or twice, the sensation of being stranded, and
it was always Mrs. Upton who felt his need and who pushed him off into the
ease of fresh questions.

He was going back to Boston the next day and asked Imogen if he could take
any message to Mary Osborne.

"Thank you, Jack," said Imogen, "but I write to Mary, always, twice a week.
She depends on my letters."

"When is she coming to you again?"

"I am afraid she is not to come at all, now."

"You're not going away?" the young man asked sharply, for her voice of sad
acceptance implied something quite as sorrowful.

"Oh, no!" Imogen answered, "but mama does not feel that I can have my
friend here now."

Jack, stranded indeed, looked his discomfort and, glancing at Mrs. Upton,
he saw it echoed, though with, a veiled echo. She laid down her work; she
looked at her daughter as though to probe the significance of her speech,
and, not finding her clue, she sat rather helplessly silent.

"Well," said Jack, with attempted lightness, "I hope that I'm not exiled,
too."

"Oh, Jack, how can you!" said Imogen. "It is only that we have discovered
that we are very, very poor, and one's hospitable impulses are shackled.
Mama has been so brave about it, and I don't want to put any burdens upon
her, especially burdens that would be so uncongenial to her as dear, funny
Mary. Mama could hardly care for that typical New England thing. Don't mind
Jack, mama; he is such a near friend that I can talk quite frankly before
him."

For Mrs. Upton was now gathering up her innocent work, preparatory, it was
evident, to departure.

"You are not displeased, dear!" Imogen protested as she rose, not angry,
not injured--Jack was trying to make it out--but full of a soft withdrawal.
"Please don't go. I so want you and Jack to see something of each other."

"I will come back presently," said Mrs. Upton. And so she left them. Jack's
thin face had flushed.

"She means that _she_ won't talk quite frankly before you, you see," said
Imogen. "Don't mind, dear Jack, she is full of these foolish little
conventionalities; she cares so tremendously about the forms of things; I
simply pay no attention; that's the best way. But it's quite true, Jack; I
don't know that I can afford to have my friends come and stay with me any
more. Apparently mama and papa, in their so different ways, have been very
extravagant; and I, too, Jack, have been extravagant. I never knew that I
mustn't be. The money was given to me as I asked for it--and there were
so many, so many claims,--oh, I can't say that I'm sorry that it is gone
as it went. 'But now that we are very poor, I want it to be my pleasures,
rather than hers, that are cut off; she depends so upon her pleasures, her
comforts. She depends more upon her maid, for instance, than I do even upon
my friends. To go without Mary this winter will be hard, of course, but our
love is founded on deeper things than seeing and speaking; and mama would
feel it tragic, I'm quite sure, to have to do up her own hair."

"Good heaven, my dear Imogen! if you are so poor, surely she can learn to
do up her own hair!" Jack burst out, the more vehemently from the fact
that Mrs. Upton's unprotesting, unexplanatory departure had, to his own
consciousness, involved him with Imogen in a companionship of crudity
and inappropriateness. She would not interfere with their frankness, but
she would not be frank with them. She didn't care a penny for what his
impression of her might be. Imogen might fit as many responsibilities upon
her shoulders as she liked and, with her long training in a school of
reticences and composures, she would remain placid and indifferent. So Jack
worked it out, and he resented, for Imogen and for himself, such tact and
such evasion. He wished that they had been more crude, more inappropriate.
Thank heaven for crudeness if morality as opposed to manners made one
crude. He entrenched himself in that morality now, open-eyed to its
seeming priggishness, to say, "And it's a bigger question than that of her
pleasures and yours, Imogen. It's a question of right and wrong. Mary needs
you. Your mother ought not to keep a maid if other people's needs are to be
sacrificed to her luxuries."

Imogen was looking thoughtfully into the fire, her calmness now not the
result of mastery; her own serene assurance was with her.

"I've thought of all that, Jack; I've weighed it, and though I feel it, as
you do, a question of right and wrong, I don't feel that I can force it
upon her. It would be like taking its favorite doll from a child. She is
trying, I do believe, to atone; she is trying to do her duty by making, as
it were, _une acte de présence_; one wants to be very gentle with her; one
doesn't want to make things more difficult than they must already seem.
Poor, dear little mama. But as for me, Jack, it's more than pleasures that
I have to give up. I have to say no to some of those claims that I've given
my life to. It's like cutting into my heart to do it."

She turned away her head to hide the quiet tears that rose involuntarily,
and by the sight of her noble distress, by the realization, too, of such
magnanimity toward the trivial little mother, Jack's inner emotion was
pushed, suddenly, past all the bolts and barriers. Turning a little pale,
he leaned forward and took her hand, stammering as he said: "Dear, dearest
Imogen, you know--you know what I want to ask--whenever you will let me
speak; you know the right I want to claim--"

It had come, the moment of avowal; but they had glided so quietly upon it
that he felt himself unprepared for his own declaration. It wad Imogen's
tranquil acceptance, rather than his own eagerness, that made the situation
seem real.

"I know, dear Jack, of course I know," she said. "It has been a deep, a
peaceful joy for a long time to feel that I was first with you. Let it rest
there, for the present, dear Jack."

"I've not made anything less joyful or less peaceful for you by speaking?"

"No, no, dear. It's only that I couldn't think of it, for some time yet."

"You promise me that, meanwhile, you will think of me, as your friend, just
as happily as before?"

"Just as happily, dear Jack; I could never, as long as you are you and I
am I, think of you in any other way." And she went on, with her tranquil
radiance of aspect, "I have always meant, you know, to make something of my
life before I chose what to do with it."

Jack, too, thought Imogen's life a flower so precious that it must be
placed where it could best bloom; but, feeling in her dispassionateness a
hurt to his hope that it would best bloom in his care, he asked: "Mightn't
the making something of it come after the choice, dear?"

Very clear as to what was her own meaning, Imogen shook her lovely,
unconfused head. "No, only the real need could rightly choose, and one can
only know the real need when one has made the real self."

These were Jack's own views, but, hearing them from her lips, they chilled.

"It seems to me that your self, already, is very real," he said, smiling
a little ruefully. And Imogen now, though firm, was very wonderful, for,
leaning to him, she put for a moment her hand on his and said, smiling back
with the tranquil tenderness: "Not yet, not quite yet, Jack; but we trust
each other's truth, and we can't but trust,--I do, dear Jack, with all my
heart,--that it can never part us."

He kissed her hand at that, and promised to trust and to be patient, and
Imogen presently lifted matters back into their accustomed place, saying
that he must help her with her project for building a country home for her
crippled children. She had laid the papers before him and they were deep in
ways and means when a sharp, imperious scratching at the door interrupted
them.

Imogen's face, as she raised it, showed a touch of weary impatience.
"Mamma's dog," she said. "He can't find her. Let him scratch. He will go
away when no one answers."

"Oh, let's satisfy him that she isn't here," said Jack, who was full of a
mild, though alien, consideration for animals.

"Can you feel any fondness for such wisps of sentimentality and greediness
as that?" Imogen asked, as the tiny _griffon_ darted into the room and ran
about, sniffing with interrogative anxiety.

"Not fondness, perhaps, but amused liking."

"There, now you see he will whine and bark to be let out again. He is as
arrogant and as troublesome as a spoilt child."

"I'll hold him until she comes," said Jack. "I say, he is a nice little
beast--full of gratitude; see him lick my hand." He had picked up the dog
and come back to her.

"I really disapprove of such absurd creatures," said Imogen. "Their very
existence seems a wrong to themselves and to the world."

"Well, I don't know." Theoretically Jack agreed with her as to the
extravagant folly of such morsels of frivolity; but, holding the
_griffon_ as he was, meeting its merry, yet melancholy, eyes, evading
its affectionate, caressing leaps toward his cheek, he couldn't echo her
reasonable rigor. "They take something the place of flowers in life, I
suppose."

"What takes the place of flowers?" Mrs. Upton asked. She had come in while
they spoke and her tone of kind, mild inquiry slightly soothed Jack's
ruffled sensibilities.

"This," said he, holding out her possession to her.

"Oh, Tison! How good of you to take care of him. He was looking for me,
poor pet."

"Imogen was wondering as to the uses of such creatures and I placed them in
the decorative category," Jack went on, determined to hold his own firmly
against any unjustifiable claims of either Tison or his mistress. He
accused himself of a tendency to soften under her glance when it was so
kindly and so consciously bent upon him. Her indifference cut him and made
him hostile, and both softness and hostility were, as he told himself,
symptoms of a silly sensitiveness. The proper attitude was one of firmness
and humor.

"I am afraid that you don't care for dogs," Mrs. Upton said. She had gone
back to her seat, taking up her work and passing her hand over Tison's
silky back as he established himself in her lap.

"Oh yes, I do; I care for flowers, too," said Jack, folding his arms and
leaning back against the table, while Imogen sat before her papers,
observant of the little encounter.

"But they are not at all in the same category. And surely," Mrs. Upton
continued, smiling up at him, "one doesn't justify one's fondness for a
creature by its uses."

"I think one really must, you know," our ethical young man objected,
feeling that he must grasp his latent severity when Mrs. Upton's vague
sweetness of regard was affecting him somewhat as her dog's caressing
little tongue had done. "If a fondness is one we have a right to, we
can justify it,--and it can only be justified by its utility, actual or
potential, to the world we are a part of."

Mrs. Upton continued to smile as though she did not suspect him of wishing
to be taken seriously. "One doesn't reason like that before one allows
oneself to become fond."

"There are lots of things we must reason about to get rid of," Jack smiled
back.

"That sounds very chilly and uncomfortable. Besides, something loving,
pretty, responsive--something that one can make very happy--is useful to
one."

"But only that," Imogen now intervened, coming to her friend's assistance
with decision. "It serves only one's own pleasure;--that is its only use.
And when I think, mama darling, of all the cold, hungry, unhappy children
in this great town to-night,--of all the suffering children, such as those
that Jack and I have been trying to help,--I can't but feel that your
petted little dog there robs some one."

Mrs. Upton, looking down at her dog, now asleep in a profound content,
continued to stroke him in silence.

Jack felt that Imogen's tone was perhaps a little too rigorous for the
occasion. "Not that we want you to turn Tison out into the streets," he
said jocosely.

"No; you mustn't ask that of me," Valerie answered, her tone less light
than before. "It seems to me that there is a place for dear unreasonable
things in the world. All that Tison is made for is to be petted. A child is
a different problem."

"And a problem that it needs all our time, all our strength, all our love
and faith to deal with," Imogen returned, with gentle sadness. "You _are_
robbing some one, mama dear."

"Apparently we are a naughty couple, you and I, Tison," Mrs. Upton said,
"but I am too old and you too eternally young to mend."

She had begun to crochet again; but, though she resumed all her lightness,
her mildness, Jack fancied that she was a little angry.

When he was gone, Mrs. Upton said, looking up at her daughter: "Of course
you must have Mary Osborne to stay with you, Imogen,"

Imogen had gone to the fire and was gazing into it. She was full of a deep
contentment. By her attitude toward Jack this evening, her reception of his
avowal, she had completely vindicated herself. Peace of mind was impossible
to Imogen unless her conscience were clear of any cloud, and now the
morning's humiliating fear was more than atoned for. She was not the woman
to clutch at safety when pain threatened; she had spoken to him exactly as
she would have spoken yesterday, before knowing that she was poor. And,
under this satisfaction, was the serene gladness of knowing him so surely
hers.

Her face, as she turned it toward her mother, adjusted itself to a task of
loving severity. "I cannot think of having her, mama."

"Why not? She will add almost nothing to our expenses. I never for a moment
dreamed of your not having her. I don't know why you thought it my wish."

Imogen looked steadily at her: "Not your wish, mama? After what you told me
this morning?"

"I only said that we must be economical and careful."

"To have one's friends to stay with one is a luxury, is not to be
economical and careful. I don't forget what you said of my expensive mode
of life, of my clothes--a reproof that I am very sure was well deserved; I
should not have been so thoughtless. But it is not fair, mama, really it is
not fair--you must see that--to reproach me, and my father--by implication,
even if not openly--with our reckless charities, and then refuse to take
the responsibility for my awakening."

Imogen, though she spoke with emotion, spoke without haste. Her mother sat
with downcast eyes, working on, and a deep color rose to her cheeks.

"I do want things to be open and honest between us, mama," Imogen went on.
"We are so very different in temperament, in outlook, in conviction, that
to be happy together we must be very true with each other. I want you
always to say just what you mean, so that I may understand what you really
want of me and may clearly see whether I can do it or not. I have such a
horror of any ambiguity in human relations, I believe so in the most
perfect truth."

Valerie was still silent for some moments after this. When she did speak it
was only of the practical matter that they had begun with. "I do want you
to have your friends with you, Imogen. It will not be a luxury. I will see
that we can afford it."

"I shall be very, very glad of that, dear. I wish I had understood before.
You see, just now, before Jack, I felt that you were hurt, displeased, by
my inference from our talk this morning. You made me feel by your whole
manner that you found me graceless, tasteless, to blame in some
way--perhaps for speaking about it to Jack. Jack is very near me, mama."

"But not near me."

"Ah, you made me feel that, too; and that you reproached me with having, as
it were, forced an intimacy upon you."

Valerie was drawing her dark brows together, as though her clue had indeed
escaped her. Imogen's mind slipped from link to link of the trivial, yet
significant, matter with an ease and certainty of purpose that was like the
movement of her own sleek needle, drawing loop after loop of wool into a
pattern; but what Imogen's pattern was she could hardly tell. She abandoned
the wish to make clear her own interpretation, looking up presently with a
faint smile. "I'm sorry, dear. I meant nothing of all that, I assure you.
And as to 'Jack,' it was only that I did not care to seem to justify myself
before him--at your expense it might seem."

"Oh, mama dear!" Imogen laughed out. "You thought me so wrong, then, that
you were afraid of harming his devotion to me by letting him see how very
wrong it was! Jack's devotion is very clear-sighted. It's a devotion that,
if it saw wrongs in me, would only ask to show them to me, too, and to
stand shoulder to shoulder with me in fighting them."

"He must be a remarkable young man," said Valerie, quite without irony.

"He is like most _real_ people in this country, mama," said Imogen, on a
graver note. "We have, I think, evolved a new standard of devotion. We
don't want to have dexterous mamas throwing powder in the eyes of the men
who care for us and sacrificing their very conception of right on the altar
of false maternal duty. The duty we owe to any one _is_ our truth. There is
no higher duty than that. Had I been as ungenerous, as unkind, as you, I'm
afraid, imagined me this evening, it would still have been your duty, to
him, to me, to bring the truth fearlessly to the light. I would have been
amused, hadn't I been so hurt, to see you, as you fancied, shielding me!
Please never forget, dear, in the future, that Jack and I are
truth-lovers."

Looking slightly bewildered by this cascade of smooth fluency, Valerie,
still with her deepened color, here murmured that she, too, cared for the
truth, but the current bore her on. "I don't think you _see_ it, mama, else
you could hardly have hurt me so."

"Did I hurt you so?"

"Why, mama, don't you imagine that I am made of flesh and blood? It was
dreadful to me, your leaving me like that, with the situation on my hands."

Valerie, after another little silence, now repeated, "I'm sorry, dear,"
and, as if accepting contrition, Imogen stooped and kissed her tenderly.



IX


Mary's visit took place about six weeks later, when Jack Pennington was
again in New York, and Mrs. Wake, returned from Europe, had been for some
time established in her little flat not very far away in Washington Square.

The retrenchments in the Upton household had taken place and Mary found
her friend putting her shoulder to the wheel with melancholy courage. The
keeping up of old beneficences meant redoubled labor and, as she said to
Mary, with the smile that Mary found so wonderful: "It seems to me now that
whenever I put my hand out to help, it gets caught and pinched." Mary,
helper and admirer, said to Jack that the way in which Imogen had gathered
up her threads, allowing hardly one to snap, was too beautiful. These young
people, like the minor characters in a play, met often in the drawing-room
while Imogen was busy up-stairs or gone out upon some important errand.
Just now, Miss Bocock's lectures having been set going, the organization
of a performance to be given for the crippled children's country home was
engaging all her time. Tableaux from the Greek drama had been fixed on, the
Pottses were full of eagerness, and Jack had been pressed into service as
stage-manager. The distribution of rôles, the grouping of the pictures, the
dressing and the scenery were in his hands.

"It's really extraordinary, the way in which, amidst her grief, she goes
through all this business, all this organization, getting people together
for her committee, securing the theater," said Mary. "Isn't it too bad that
she can't be in the tableaux herself? She would have been the loveliest of
all."

Jack, rather weary, after an encounter with a band of dissatisfied
performers in the library, said: "One could have put one's heart into
making an Antigone of her; that's what I wanted--the filial Antigone,
leading Oedipus through the olive groves of Colonus. It's bitter, instead
of that, to have to rig Mrs. Scott out as Cassandra; will you believe it,
Mary, she insists on being Cassandra--with that figure, that nose! And she
has fixed her heart on the scene where Cassandra stands in the car outside
the house of Agamemnon. She fancies that she is a tragic, ominous type."

"She has nice arms, you know," said the kindly Mary.

"Don't I know!" said Jack. "Well, it's through them that I shall circumvent
her. Her arms shall be fully displayed and her face turned away from the
audience."

"Jack, dear, you mustn't be spiteful," Mary shook her head a little at him.
"I've thought that I felt just a touch of--of, well--flippancy in you once
or twice lately. You mustn't deceive poor Mrs. Scott. It's that that is so
wonderful about Imogen. I really believe that she could make her give up
the part, if she set herself to it; she might even tell her that her nose
was too snub for it--and she would not wound her. It's extraordinary her
power over people. They feel, I think, the tenderness, the
disinterestedness, that lies beneath the truth."

"I suppose there's no hope of persuading her to be Antigone?"

"Don't suggest it again, Jack. The idea hurt her so."

"I won't. I understand. When is Rose coming?"

"In a day or two. She is to spend the rest of the winter with the Langleys.
What do you think of for her?"

"Helen appearing between the soldiers, before Hecuba and Menelaus. I only
wish that Imogen had more influence over Rose. Your theory about her power
doesn't hold good there."

"Ah, even there, I don't give up hope. Rose doesn't really know Imogen. And
then Rose is a child in many ways, a dear, but a spoiled, child."

"What do you think of Mrs. Upton, now that you see something of her?" Jack
asked abruptly.

"She is very sweet and kind, Jack. She is working so hard for all of us.
She is going to make my robe. She is addressing envelopes now--and you know
how dull that is. I am sure I used to misjudge her. But, she is very queer,
Jack."

"Queer? In what way queer?" Jack asked, placing himself on the sofa, his
legs stretched out before him, his hands in his pockets.

"I hardly know how to express it. She is so light, yet so deep; and I can't
make out why or where she is deep; it's there that the queerness comes in.
I feel it in her smile, the way she looks at you; I believe I feel it more
than she does. She doesn't know she's deep."

"Not really found herself yet, you think?" Jack questioned; the phrase was
one often in use between these young people.

Mary mused. "Somehow that doesn't apply to her--I don't believe she'll ever
look for herself."

"You think it's you she finds," Jack suggested; voicing a dim suspicion
that had come to him once or twice of late.

"What do you mean, exactly, Jack?"

"I'm sure I don't know," he laughed a little. "So you like her?" he
questioned.

"I think I do; against my judgment, against my will, as it were. But that
doesn't imply that one approves of her."

"Why not?"

"Why, Jack, you know the way _you_ felt about it, the day you and I and
Rose talked it over."

"But we hadn't seen her then. What I want to know is just what _you_ feel,
now that you have seen her."

Mary had another conscientious pause. "How can one approve of her while
Imogen is there?" she said at last.

"You mean that Imogen makes one remember everything?"

"Yes. And Imogen is everything she isn't."

"So that, by contrast, she loses."

"Yes, and do you know, Jack," Mary lowered her voice while she glanced up
at Mrs. Upton's portrait, "I can hardly believe that she has suffered,
really suffered, about him, at all. She is so unlike a widow."

"I suppose she felt herself a widow long ago."

"She had no right to feel it, Jack. His death should cast a deeper shadow
on her."

As Jack, shamefully, could see Mr. Upton as shadow removed, he only said,
after a slight pause: "Perhaps that's another of the things she doesn't
obviously show--suffering, I mean."

"I'm afraid that she's incapable of feeling any conviction of sin," said
Mary, "and that wise, old-fashioned phrase expresses just what I mean as to
a lack in her. On the other hand, in a warmhearted, pagan sort of way, she
is, I'm quite sure, one of the kindest of people. Her maid, when she went
back to England the other day, cried dreadfully at leaving her, and Mrs.
Upton cried too. I happened to find them together just before Felkin went.
Now I had imagined, in my narrow way, that a spoilt beauty was always a
tyrant to her maid."

"Oh, so her maid's gone! How does she do her hair, then?"

"Do her hair, Jack? What a funny question. As we all do, of course, with
her wits and her hands, I suppose. Any one with common-sense can do their
hair."

Jack kept silence, reflecting on the picture that Imogen had drawn for
him--the child bereft of its toy. Had it given it up willingly, or had it
been forced to relinquish it by the pressure of circumstance? Remembering
his own stringent words, he felt a qualm of compunction. Had he armed
Imogen for this ruthlessness?

The lustrous folds of Mrs. Upton's hair, at lunch, reassured him as to her
fitness to do without Felkin in that particular, but his mind still dwelt
on the picture of the crying child and he asked Imogen, when he was next
alone with her, how the departure of Felkin had been effected.

"You couldn't manage to let her keep the toy, then?"

"The toy?" Imogen was blank.

He enlightened her. "Her maid, you know, who had to do her hair."

"Oh, Felkin! No," Imogen's face was a little quizzical, "it couldn't be
managed. I thought it over, what you said about sacrificing other people's
needs to her luxuries, and felt that you were right. So I put it to her,
very, very gently, of course, very tactfully, so that I believe that she
thinks that it was she who initiated the idea. Perhaps she _had_ intended
from the first to send her back; it was so obvious that a woman as poor as
she is ought not to have a maid. All the same, I felt that she was a little
vexed with me, poor dear. But, apart from the economical question, I'm glad
I insisted. It's so much better for her not to be so dependent on another
woman. It's a little degrading for both of them, I think."

Jack, who theoretically disapproved of all such undemocratic gauds, was
sure that Mrs. Upton was much better off without her maid; yet something of
the pathos of that image remained with him--the child deprived of its toy;
something, too, of discomfort over that echo of her father that he now and
then detected in Imogen's serene sense of rightness.

This discomfort, this uneasy sense of echoes, returned more than once
in the days that followed. Mrs. Upton seemed, as yet, to have made very
little difference in the situation; she had glided into it smoothly,
unobtrusively--a silken shadow; when she was among them it was of that she
made him think; and in her shadowed quietness, as of a tranquil mist at
evening or at dawn, he more and more came to feel a peace and sweetness.
But it was always in this sweetness and this peace that the contrasting
throb of restlessness stirred.

He saw her at the meals he frequently attended, meals where the
conversation, for the most part, was carried on by Imogen. Mrs. Wake, also
a frequent guest, was a very silent one, and Mary an earnest listener.

If Imogen's talk had ceased to be very interesting to Jack, that was only
because he knew it so well. He knew it so well that, while she talked,
quietly, fluently, dominatingly, he was able to remain the dispassionate
observer and to wonder how it impressed her mother. Jack watched Mrs.
Upton, while Imogen talked, leaning her head on her hand and raising
contemplative eyes to her daughter. Those soft, dark eyes, eyes almost
somnolent under their dusky brows and half-drooped lashes,--how different
they were from Imogen's, as different as dusk from daylight. And they
were not really sad, not really sleepy, eyes; that was the surprise of
them when, after the downcast mystery, they raised to one suddenly their
penetrating intelligence. The poetry of their aspect was constantly
contradicted by the prose of their glance. But she did more than turn her
own poetry into prose, so he told himself; she turned other people's into
prose, too. Her glance became to him a running translation into sane,
almost merry, commonplace, of Imogen's soarings. He knew that she made the
translation and he knew that it was a prose one, but its meaning she kept
for herself. It was when, now and then, he felt that he had hit upon a
word, a phrase, that the discomfort, the bewilderment, came; and he would
then turn resolutely to Imogen and grasp firmly his own conception of her
essential meaning, a meaning that could bear any amount of renderings.

She was so beautiful, sitting there, the girl he loved, her pearly face
and throat, her coronet of pale, bright gold, rising from the pathetic
blackness, that it might well be that the mother felt only his own joy in
her loveliness and could spare no margin of consciousness for critical
comment. She was so lovely, so young, so good; so jaded, too, with all
the labor, the giving of herself, the long thoughts for others; why
shouldn't she be dominant and assured? Why shouldn't she even be didactic
and slightly complacent? If there was sometimes a triteness in her
pronouncements, a lack of humor, of spontaneity, in her enthusiasms, surely
no one who loved her could recognize them with any but the tenderest of
smiles. He felt quite sure that Mrs. Upton recognized them with nothing
else. He felt quite sure that the "deepest" thing in Mrs. Upton was the
most intense interest in Imogen; but he felt sure, too, that the thing
above it, the thing that gazed so quietly, so dispassionately, was complete
indifference as to what Imogen might be saying. Didn't her prose, with its
unemphatic evenness, imply that some enthusiasms went quite without saying
and that some questions were quite disposed of for talk just because they
were so firmly established for action? When he had reached this point
of query, Jack felt rising within him that former sense of irritation
on Imogen's behalf, and on his own. After all, youthful triteness and
enthusiasm were preferable to indifference. In the stress of this
irritation he felt, at moments, a shock of keen sympathy for the departed
Mr. Upton, who had, no doubt, often felt that disconcerting mingling of
interest and indifference weigh upon his dithyrambic ardors. He often felt
very sorry for Mr. Upton as he looked at his widow. It was better to feel
that than to feel sorry for her while he listened to Imogen. It did not do
to realize too keenly, through Imogen's echo, what it must have been to
listen to Mr. Upton for a lifetime. When, on rare occasions, he had Mrs.
Upton to himself, his impulse always was to "draw her out," to extract from
her what were her impressions of things in general and what her attitude
toward life. She must really, by this time, have enough accepted him as
one of themselves to feel his right to hear all sorts of impressions. He
was used to talking things over, talking them, indeed, over and over;
turning them, surveying them, making the very most of all their possible
significance, with men and women to whom his relationship was half
brotherly and wholly comradely, and whom, in the small, fresh, clear world,
where he had spent his life, he had known since boyhood. It was a very
ethical and intellectual little world, this of Jack's, where impressions
passed from each to each, as if by right, where some suspicion was felt for
those that could not be shared, and where to keep anything so worth while
to oneself was almost to rob a whole circle. Reticence had the distinct
flavor of selfishness and uncertainty of mind, the flavor of laxity. If one
were earnest and ardent and disciplined one either knew what one thought,
and shared it, or one knew what one wanted to think, and one sought it.
Jack suspected Mrs. Upton of being neither earnest, nor ardent, nor
disciplined; but he found it difficult to believe that, as a new inmate of
his world, she couldn't be, if only she would make the effort, as clear as
the rest of it, and that she wasn't as ready, if manipulated with tact and
sympathy, to give and to receive.

Wandering about the drawing-room, while, as usual in her leisure moments,
she crocheted a small jacket, Tison in her lap, he wondered, for instance,
what she thought of the drawing-room. He knew that it was very different
from the drawing-room in her Surrey cottage, and very different from the
drawing-rooms with which, as he had heard from Imogen, she was familiar in
the capitals of Europe. Mrs. Upton was, to-day, crocheting a blue border as
peacefully as though she had faced pseudo-Correggios and crimson brocade
and embossed wall-paper all her life, so that either her tastes shared the
indifference of her intelligence or else her power of self-control was
commendably complete.

"I hope that you are coming to Boston some day," he said to her on this
occasion, the occasion of the blue border. "I'd like so much to show you my
studio there, and my work. I'm not such an idler as you might imagine."

Mrs. Upton replied that she should never for a moment imagine him an idler
and that since she was going to Boston to stay with his great-aunt, a dear
but too infrequently seen friend of hers, she hoped soon for the pleasure
of seeing his work. "I hear that you are very talented," she added.

Jack, who considered that he was, did not protest with a false modesty,
but went on to talk of the field of art in general, and questioning her,
skeptical as to her statement that her artistic tastes were a mere medley,
he put together by degrees a conception of vague dislikes and sharp
preferences. But, in spite of his persistence in keeping her to Chardin and
Japanese prints, she would pass on from herself to Imogen, emphasizing her
satisfaction in Imogen's great interest in art. "It's such a delightful
bond between people," And Mrs. Upton, with her more than American parental
discretion, smiled her approval of such bonds.

Jack reflected some moments before saying that Imogen knew, perhaps, more
than she cared. He didn't think that Imogen had, exactly, the esthetic
temperament. And that there was no confidential flavor in these remarks he
demonstrated by adding that it was a point he and Imogen often discussed;
he had often told her that she should try to feel more and to think less,
so that Valerie might amusedly have recalled Imogen's explanation to her
of the fundamental frankness that made lovers in America such "remarkable
young men." Jack's frankness, evidently, would be restrained by neither
diffidence nor affection. She received his diagnosis of her daughter's case
without comment, saying only, after a moment, while she turned a corner of
her jacket, "And you are of the artistic temperament, I suppose?"

"Well, yes," he owned, "in a sense; though not in that in which the word
has been so often misused. I don't see the artist as a performing acrobat
nor as an anarchist in ethics, either. I think that art is one of the big
aspects of life and that through it one gets hold of a big part of
reality."

Mrs. Upton, mildly intent on her corner, looked acquiescent.

"I think," Jack went on, "that, like everything else in life worth having,
it's a harmony only attained by discipline and by sacrifice. And it's
essentially a social, not a selfish attainment; it widens our boundaries of
comprehension and sympathy; it reveals brotherhood. The artist's is a high
form of service."

He suspected Mrs. Upton, while he spoke, of disagreement; he suspected her,
also, of finding him sententious; but she continued to look interested, so
that, quite conscious of his didactic purpose and amused by all the things
he saw in their situation, he unfolded to her his conception of the
artist's place in the social organism.

She said, finally, "I should have thought that art was much more of an end
in itself."

"Ah, there we come to the philosophy of it," said Jack. "It _is_, of
course, a sort of mysticism. One lays hold of something eternal in all
achievement; but then, you see, one finds out that the eternal isn't cut up
into sections, as it were--art here, ethics there--intellect yonder; one
finds out that all that is eternal is bound up with the whole, so that you
can't separate beauty from goodness and truth any more than you can divide
a man's moral sense from his artistic and rational interests."

"Still, it's in sections for us, surely? What very horrid people can be
great artists," Mrs. Upton half questioned, half mused.

"Ah, I don't believe it! I don't believe it!" Jack broke out. "You'll find
a flaw in his art, if you find a moral chaos in him. It must be a harmony!"

The corner was long since turned, and on a simple stretch of blue Mrs.
Upton now looked up at him with a smile that showed him that whether she
liked what he said or not, she certainly liked him. It was here that the
slight bewilderment came in, to feel that he had been upholding some
unmoral doctrine she would have smiled in just the same way; and the
bewilderment was greater on feeling how much he liked her to like him. Over
the didactic intentions, a boyish, an answering, smile irradiated his face.

"I'm not much of a thinker, but I suppose that it does all come together,
somehow," she said.

"I'm sure that you make a great deal of beauty, wherever you are," Jack
answered irrelevantly. "I've heard that your cottage in England is so
charming. Mrs. Wake was telling me about it."

"It is a dear little place."

He remembered, suddenly, that the room where they talked contradicted his
assertion, and, glancing about it furtively, his eye traversed the highly
glazed surface of the Correggio. Mrs. Upton's glance followed his. "I don't
think I ever cared, so seriously, about beauty," she said, smiling quietly.
"I lived, you see, for a good many years in this room, just as it is."
There was no pathos in her voice. Jack brought it out for her.

"I am sure you hated it!"

"I thought it ugly, of course; but I didn't mind so much as all that. I
didn't mind, really, so much as you would."

"Not enough to try to have it right?"

He was marching his ethics into it, and, with his question, he felt now
that he had brought Mr. Upton right down from the wall and between them.
Mr. Upton had not minded the room at all, or had minded only in the sense
that he made it a matter of conscience not to mind. And aspects of it Mr.
Upton had thought beautiful. And that Mrs. Upton felt all this he was sure
from the very vagueness of her answer.

"That would have meant caring more for beauty than for more important
things in life."

He knew that it was in horribly bad taste, but he couldn't help having it
out, now that he had, involuntarily, gone so far. "If you like Chardin, I'm
sure that that hurts you," and he indicated the pseudo-Correggio, this time
openly.

She followed his gesture with brows of mildly lifted inquiry, "You mean
it's not genuine?"

"That, and a great deal more. It's imitation, and it's bad imitation; and,
anyway, the original would be out of place here--on that wall-paper."

But Mrs. Upton wouldn't be clear; wouldn't be drawn; wouldn't, simply,
share. She shook her head; she smiled, as though he must accept from her
her lack of proper feeling, repeating, "I didn't like it, but, really, I
never minded much." And he had to extract what satisfaction he could from
her final, vague summing-up. "It went with the chairs--and all the rest."



X


"Mama," said Imogen, "who is Sir Basil?" She had picked up a letter from
the hall table as she and Jack passed on their way up-stairs after their
walk, and she carried it into the library with the question.

Mrs. Upton was making tea beside the fire, Mrs. Wake and Mary with her,
and as Imogen held out the letter with its English stamp and masculine
handwriting a dusky rose-color mounted to her face. Indeed, in taking the
letter from her daughter's hand, her blush was so obvious that a slight
silence of recognized and shared embarrassment made itself felt.

It was Jack who felt it most. After his swiftly averted glance at Mrs.
Upton his own cheeks had flamed in ignorant sympathy. He was able, in a
moment, to see that it might have been the fire, or the tea, or the mere
suddenness of an unexpected question that had caused the look of helpless
girlishness, but the memory stayed with him, a tenderness and a solicitude
in it.

Imogen had apparently seen nothing. She went on, pulling off her gloves,
taking off her hat, glancing at her radiant white and rose in the glass
while she questioned. "I remember him in your letters, but remember him so
little--a dull, kind old country squire, the impression, I think. But what
does a dull, kind old country squire find to write about so often?"

If Mrs. Upton couldn't control her cheeks she could perfectly control
her manner, and though Jack's sympathy guessed at some pretty decisive
irritation under it, he could but feel that its calm disposed of any absurd
interpretations that the blush might have aroused.

"Yes, I have often, I think, mentioned him in my letters, Imogen, though
not in those terms. He is a neighbor of mine in Surrey and a friend."

"Is he clever?" Imogen asked, ignoring the coolness in her mother's voice.

"Not particularly."

"What does he do, mama?"

"He takes care of his property."

"Sport and feudal philanthropy, I suppose," Imogen smiled.

"Very much just that," Mrs. Upton answered, pouring out her daughter's tea.

Jack, who almost expected to see Imogen's brow darken with reprobation for
the type of existence so described, was relieved, and at the same time
perturbed, to observe that the humorous kindliness of her manner remained
unclouded. No doubt she found the subject too trivial and too remote for
gravity. Jack himself had a general idea that serious friendships between
man and woman were adapted only to the young and the unmated. After
marriage, according to this conception, the sexes became, even in social
intercourse, monogamous, and he couldn't feel the bond between Mrs. Upton
and a feudal country squire as a matter of much importance. But, on the
other hand, Mrs. Upton had said "friend" with decision, and though the
word, for her, could not mean what it meant to people like himself and
Imogen--a grave, a beautiful bond of mutual help, mutual endeavor, mutual
rejoicing in the wonder and splendor of life--even a trivial relationship
was not a fit subject for playful patronage. It was with sharp
disapprobation that he heard Imogen go on to say, "I should like to meet a
man like that--really to know. One imagines that they are as extinct as the
dodo, and suddenly, if one goes to England, one finds them swarming. Happy,
decorative, empty people; perfectly kind, perfectly contented, perfectly
useless. Oh, I don't mean your Sir Basil a bit, mama darling. I'm quite
sure, since you like him, that he is a more interesting variation of the
type. Only I can't help wondering what he _does_ find to write about."

"I think, as I am wondering myself, I will ask you all to excuse me if
I open my letter," said Mrs. Upton, and, making no offer of satisfying
Imogen's curiosity, she unfolded two stout sheets of paper and proceeded
to read them.

Imogen did not lose her look of lightness, but Jack fancied in the
steadiness of the gaze that she bent upon her mother a controlled anger.

"One may be useful, Imogen, without wearing any badge of usefulness," Mrs.
Wake now observed. Her bonnet, as usual, on one side, and her hair much
disarranged, she had listened to the colloquy in silence.

Imogen was always very sweet with Mrs. Wake. She had the air of a full,
deep river benignly willing to receive without a ripple any number of such
tossed pebbles, to engulf and flow over them. She had told Jack that Mrs.
Wake's dry aggressiveness did not blind her for a moment to Mrs. Wake's
noble qualities. Mrs. Wake was a brave, a splendid person, and she had the
greatest admiration for her; but, beneath these appreciations, a complete
indifference as to Mrs. Wake's opinions and personality showed always in
her demeanor toward her. She was a splendid person, but she was of no
importance to Imogen whatever.

"I don't think that one can be useful unless one is actively helping on the
world's work, dear Mrs. Wake," she now said. "Mary, we have tickets for
Carnegie Hall to-morrow night; won't that be a treat? I long for a deep
draft of music."

"One does help it on," said Mrs. Wake, skipping, as it were, another
pebble, "if one fills one's place in life and does one's duty."

Imogen now gave her a more undivided attention. "Precisely. And one must
grow all the time to do that. One's place in life is a growing thing, It
doesn't remain fixed and changeless--as English conservatism usually
implies. Are you a friend of Sir Basil's, too?"

"I met him while I was with your mother, and I thought it a pity we didn't
produce more men like him over here--simple, unselfconscious men, contented
to be themselves and to do the duty that is nearest them."

"Anglomaniac!" Imogen smiled, sugaring her second cup of tea.

Mrs. Wake flushed slightly. "Because I see the good qualities of another
country?"

"Because you see its defects with a glamour over them."

"Is it a defect to do well by instinct what we have not yet learned to do
without effort!"

"Ah,--but the danger there is--" Jack here broke in, much interested, "the
danger there is that you merge the individual in the function. When
function becomes instinctive it atrophies unless it can grow into higher
forms of function. Imogen's right, you know."

"In a sense, no doubt. But all the same our defect is that we have so
little interest except as individuals."

"What more interest can any one have than that?"

"In older civilizations people may have all the accumulated interest of the
deep background, the long past, that, quite unconsciously, they embody."

"We have the interest of the future."

"I don't think so, quite; for the individual, the future doesn't seem to
count. The individual is sacrificed to the future, but the past is, in a
sense, sacrificed for the individual; in the right sort it's all
there--summed up."

Imogen had listened, still with her steady smile, to these heresies and to
Jack's over-lenient dealing with them. She picked up a review, turning the
pages and glancing through it while she said, ever so lightly and gently:

"I think that you would find most aristocrats against you in our country,
dear Mrs. Wake. With all the depth of our background, the length of our
past, you would find, in Jack and Mary and me, for instance, that it's our
sense of the future, of our own purposes for it, that makes our truest
reality."

Jack was rather pleased with this apt summing-up, too pleased, in his
masculine ingenuousness, to feel that for Mrs. Wake, with no ancestry at
all to speak of, such a summing could not be very gratifying. He didn't see
this at all until Mrs. Upton, folding her letter, came into the slightly
awkward silence that followed Imogen's speech, with the decisiveness that
had subtly animated her manner since Imogen's entrance. She remarked that
the past, in that sense of hereditary tradition handed on by hereditary
power, didn't exist at all in America; it was just that fact that made
America so different and so interesting; its aristocrats so often had the
shallowest of backgrounds. And in her gliding to a change of subject, in
her addressing of an entirely foreign question to Mrs. Wake, Jack guessed
at a little flare of resentment on her friend's behalf.

Imogen kept her calm, and while her mother talked to Mrs. Wake she talked
to Mary; but that the calm was assumed she showed him presently when they
were left alone. She then showed him, indeed, that she was frankly angry.

"One doesn't mind Mrs. Wake," she said; "it's that type among us, the
type without background, without traditions, that is so influenced by
the European thing; you saw the little sop mama threw to her--she an
aristocrat!--because of a generation of great wealth; that could be her
only claim; but to have mama so dead to all we mean!"

Jack, rather embarrassed by the pressure of his enlightenments, said that
he hadn't felt that; it seemed to him that she did see what they meant, it
was their future that counted, in the main.

"A rootless future, according to her!"

"Why, we have our past; it's the way we possess it that's new in the world;
that's what she meant. Any little advantage that you or I may have in our
half-dozen or so generations of respectability and responsibility, is ours
only to share, to make us _tell_ more in the general uplifting,"

"You think that you need say that to _me_, Jack! As for respectability,
that homespun word hardly applies; we do have lineage here, and in the
European sense, even if without the European power. But that's no matter.
It's the pressing down on me of this alien standard, whether expressed or
not, that stifles me. I could feel mama's hostility in every word, every
glance."

"Hardly hostility, Imogen. Perhaps a touch of vexation on Mrs. Wake's
account. You didn't mean it, of course, but it might have hurt, what you
said."

"That! That was a mere opportunity. Didn't you feel and see that it was!"

Jack's aspect now took on its air of serious and reasonable demonstration.

"Well, you know, Imogen, you were a little tactless about her
friendship--about this Sir Basil."

He expected wonder and denial, but, on the contrary, after going to the
window and looking out silently for some moments, Imogen, without turning,
said, "It's not a friendship I care about."

"Why not?" Jack asked, taken aback.

"I don't like it," Imogen repeated.

"Why under the sun should you dislike it? What do you know about it,
anyway?"

Imogen still gazed from the window. "Jack, I don't believe that mama is at
all the woman to have friends, as we understand the word. I don't believe
that it is simply a friendship. Yes, you may well look surprised,"--she
had turned to him now--"I've never told you. It seemed unfair to her. But
again and again I've caught her whispers, hints, about the sentimental
attachments mama inspires. You may imagine how I've felt, living here with
_him_, in his loneliness. I don't say, I don't believe, that mama was ever
a flirt; she is too dignified, too distinguished a woman for that; but the
fact remains that whispers of this sort do attach themselves to her name,
and a woman is always to blame, in some sense, for that."

Jack, looking as startled as she had hoped he would, gazed now with
frowning intentness on the ground and made no reply.

"As for this Sir Basil," Imogen went on, "I used to wonder if he were
another of these triflers with the sanctity of love, and of late I've
wondered more. He writes to her constantly. What can the bond between mama
and a man of that type be unless it's a sentimental one? And didn't you see
her blush to-day?"

Jack now raised his eyes to her and she saw that he, at all events, was
blushing. "I can't bear to hear you talk like this, Imogen," he said.

Imogen's own cheeks flamed at the implied reproach. "Do you mean that I
must lock everything, everything I have to suffer, into my own heart? I
thought that to you, Jack, I could say anything."

"Of course, of course, dear. Only don't _think_ in this way."

"I accuse her of nothing but accepting this sort of homage."

"I know; of course,--only not even to me. They are friends. We have no
right to spy upon them; it's almost as if you had laid a trap for her and
then pointed her out to me in it. Oh, I know that you didn't mean it so."

"Spy on her! I only wanted to know!"

"But your tone was, well, rather offensively--humorous."

"Can you feel that a friendship to be taken seriously? The very kindest
thing is to treat it lightly, humorously, as I did. She ought to be laughed
out of tolerating such an unbecoming relationship. A woman of her age ought
not to be able to blush like that."

Looking down again, still with his deep flush, Jack said, "Really, Imogen,
I think that you take too much upon yourself."

Imogen felt her cheeks whiten. She fixed her eyes hard on his downcast
face.

"It will be the last touch to all I have to bear, Jack, if mama brings
a misunderstanding between you and me. If you can feel it fitting,
appropriate, that a widow of barely four months should encourage the
infatuation of a stupid old Englishman, then I have no more to say. We
have different conceptions of right and wrong, that is all." Imogen's lips
trembled slightly in pronouncing the words.

"I should agree with you if that were the case, Imogen. I don't believe
that it is."

"Very well. Wait and see if it isn't the case," said Imogen.

It was Jack who broached another subject, asking her about some concerts
she had gone to recently; but, turned from him again and looking out into
the evening, her answers were so vague and chill, that presently, casting a
glance half mournful and half alarmed upon her, he bade her good-by and
left her.

Imogen stood looking out unseeingly, a sense of indignation and of fear
weighing upon her. Jack had never before left her like this. But she could
not yield to the impulse to call out to him, run after him, beg him not to
go with a misunderstanding unresolved between them, for she was right and
he was wrong. She had told him to wait and see if it wasn't the case, what
she had said; and now they must wait. She believed that it was the case,
and the thought filled her with a sense of personal humiliation.

Since her summing up of the situation in the library, not three months ago,
that first quiet sense of mastery had been much shaken, and now for weeks
there had been with her constantly a strange gliding of new realizations.
This one seemed the last touch to her mother's wrongness--a wrongness that
had threatened nothing, had crushed down on nothing, and that yet pervaded
more and more the whole of life--that she should bring back to her old
deserted home not a touch of penitence and the incense of absurd devotions.
Friends of that sort, middle-aged, dull Englishmen, didn't, Imogen had
wisely surmised, write to one every week. It wasn't as if they had uniting
interests to bind them. Even a literary, a political, a philanthropic,
correspondence Imogen would have felt as something of an affront to her
father's memory, now, at this time; such links with the life that had
always been a sore upon their family dignity should have been laid aside
while the official mourning lasted, so to speak. But Sir Basil, she felt
sure, had no mitigating interests to write about, and the large, square
envelope that lay so often on the hall-table seemed to her like a pert,
placid face gazing in at the house of mourning. To-day, yes, she had wanted
to know, to see, and suspicions and resentments from dim had become keen.

And now, to complete it all, Jack did not understand. Jack thought her
unfair, unkind. He had left her with that unresolved discord between them.
A sense of bereavement, foreboding, and desolation filled her heart. On the
table beside her stood a tall vase of lilies that he had sent her, and as
she stood, thinking sad and bitter thoughts, she passed her hand over them
from time to time, bending her face to them, till, suddenly, the tears rose
and fell and, closing her eyes, holding the flowers against her cheek, she
began to cry.

That was what she had meant to be like, the pure, sweet aroma of these
flowers, filling all the lives about her with a spiritual fragrance. She
did so want to be good and lovely, to make goodness and loveliness grow
about her. It was hard, hard, when that was what she wanted--all that she
wanted--to receive these buffets from loved hands, to see loved eyes look
at her with trouble and severity. It was nothing, indeed,--it was, indeed,
only to be expected,--that her mother should not recognize the spiritual
fragrance; that Jack should be so insensible to it pierced her. And feeling
herself alone in a blind and hostile world, she sobbed and sobbed, finding
a sad relief in tears. She was able to think, while she wept, that though
it was a relief she mustn't let it become a weakness; mustn't let herself
slide into the danger of allowing grief and desolation to blur outlines for
her. That others were blind mustn't blind her; that others did not see her
as good and lovely must not make her, with cowardly complaisance, forswear
her own clear consciousness of right. She was thinking this, and her sobs
were becoming a little quieter, when her mother, now in her evening
tea-gown, came back into the room.

Imogen was not displeased that her grief should have this particular
witness. Besides all the deep, unspoken wrongs, her mother must be
conscious of smaller wrongs against her this afternoon, must know that she
had--well--tried to put her, as it were, in her place, first about the
letter and then about Mrs. Wake's lack of aristocratic instinct. She must
know this and must know that Imogen knew it. These were trivial matters,
not to be recognized between them; and how completely indifferent they
were to her her present grief would demonstrate. Such tears fell only for
great sorrows. Holding the flowers to her cheek, she wept on, turning her
face away. She knew that her mother had paused, startled, at a loss; and,
gravely, without one word, she intended, in a moment, unless her mother
should think it becoming to withdraw, to leave the room, still weeping. But
she had not time to carry this resolution into effect. Suddenly, and much
to her dismay, she felt her mother's arms around her, while her mother's
voice, alarmed, tender, tearful, came to her: "Poor darling, my poor
darling, what is it? Please tell me."

Physical demonstrations were never pleasing to Imogen, who, indeed,
disliked being touched; and now, though she submitted to having her head
drawn down to her mother's shoulder, she could not feel that the physical
contact in any way bridged the chasm between them. She felt, presently,
from her mother's inarticulate murmurs of compunction and pity, that this
was, apparently, what she had hoped for. It was evidently with difficulty,
before her child's unresponsive silence, that she found words.

"Is it anything that I've done?" she questioned. "Have I seemed cross this
afternoon? I _was_ a little cross, I know. Do forgive me, dear."

Enveloped as she was in her mother's arms, so near that she could feel the
warmth and smoothness of her shoulder through the fine texture of her gown,
so near that a fresh fragrance, like that from a bank of violets, seemed
to breathe upon her, Imogen found it a little difficult to control the
discomfort that the contact aroused in her. "Of course I forgive you, dear
mama," she said, in a voice that had regained its composure. "But, oh
no!--it was not at all for that--I hardly noticed it. It's nothing that you
can help, dear."

"But I can't bear to have you cry and not know what's the matter."

"Your knowing wouldn't help me, would it?" said Imogen, with a faint smile,
lifting her hand to press her handkerchief to her eyes.

"No, of course not; but it would help _me_--for my sake, then."

"Then, if it helps you, it was papa I was thinking of. I miss him so." And
with the words, that placed before her suddenly a picture of her own
desolation, a great sob again shook her. "I'm so lonely now, so lonely."
Her mother held her, not speaking, though Imogen now felt that she, too,
wept, and a greater bitterness rose in her at the thought that it was not
for her dead father that the tears fell but in pure weak sympathy and
helplessness. She, herself, was the only lonely one. She alone, remembered.
She alone longed for him. In this sharpened realization of her own sorrow
she forgot that it had not been the actual cause of her grief.

"Poor darling; poor child," her mother said at last. "Imogen, I know that
I've failed, in so much. But I want so to make up for things, if I can; to
be near you; to fill the loneliness a little; to have you love me, too,
with time."

"Love you, my dear mother? Why, I am full of love for you. Haven't you felt
that?" Imogen drew herself away to look her grieved wonder into her
mother's eyes. "Oh, mama, how little you know me!"

Valerie, flushed, the tears on her cheeks, oddly shaken from her usual
serenity, still clasped her daughter's hands and still spoke on. "I know, I
know,--but it's not in the way it ought to be. It's not your fault, Imogen;
it's mine; it must be the mother's fault if she can't make herself needed.
Only you can't know how it all began, from so far back--that sense that you
didn't need me. But I shirked; I know that I shirked. Things seemed too
hard for me--I didn't know how to bear them. Perhaps you might have come
almost to hate me, if I had stayed, as things were. I'm not making any
appeal. I'm not trying to force anything. But I so want you to know how I
long to have my chance--to begin all over again. I so want you to help."

Imogen, troubled and confused by her mother's soft yet almost passionate
eagerness, that seemed to pull her down to some childish, inferior
place, just as her mother's arms had drawn down her head to an attitude
incongruous with its own benignant loftiness, had yet been able, while she
spoke, to gather her thoughts into a keen, moral concentration upon her
actual words. She was accustomed, in moments of moral stress, to a quick
lifting of her heart and mind for help and insight toward the highest that
she knew, and she felt herself pray now, "Help me to be true, to her, for
her." The prayer seemed to raise her from some threatened abasement, and
from her regained height she spoke with a sense of assured revelation.
"We can't have things by merely _wanting_, them. To gain anything we must
_work_ for it. You left us. We didn't shut you out. You were
different.--You _are_ different."

But her mother's vehemence was still too great to be thrown back by
salutary truths.

"Yes; that's just it; we were different. It was that that seemed to shut me
out. You were with him--against me. And I'm not asking for any change in
you; I don't think that I expect any change in myself,--I am not asking for
any place in your heart that is his, dear child; I know that that can't be,
should not be. But people can be different, and yet near. They can be
different and yet love each other very much. That's all I want--that you
should see how I care for you and trust me."

"I do trust you, darling mama. I do see that you are warm-hearted, full of
kind impulses. But I think that your life is confused, uncertain of any
goal. If you are to be near me in the way you crave, you must change. And
we _can_, dear, with faith and effort. When you have found yourself, found
a goal, I shall feel you near."

"Ah, but don't be so over-logical, dear child. You're my goal!" Valerie
smiled and appealed at once.

Imogen, though smiling gravely too, shook her head. "I'm afraid that I'm
only your last toy, mama darling. You have come over here to see if you can
make me happy, just as if you were refurnishing a house. But, you see, my
happiness doesn't depend on you."

"You are hard on me, Imogen."

"No; no; I mean to be so gentle. It's such a dangerous view of life--that
centering it on some one else, making them an end. I feel so differently
about life. I think that our love for others is only sound and true when it
helps them to power of service to some shared ideal. Your love for me isn't
like that. It's only an instinctive craving. Forgive me if I seem ruthless.
I only want to help you to see clearly, dear."

Valerie, still holding her daughter's hands, looked away from her and
around the room with a glance at once vague and a little wild.

"I don't know what to say to you," she murmured. "You make all that I mean
wither." She was sad; her ardor had dropped from her. She was not at all
convicted of error; indeed, she was trying, so it seemed, to convict her,
Imogen, of one.

Imogen felt a cold resistance rising within her to meet this
misinterpretation. "On the contrary, dear," she said, "it is just the
poetry, the reality of life, in all its stern glory,--because it is and
must be stern if it is to be spiritual,--it is just that, it seems to me,
that you are trying to reduce to a sort of pretty, facile lyric."

Valerie still held the girl's hands very tightly, as though grasping hard
some dying hope. And looking down upon the ground she stood silent for some
moments. Presently she said, not raising her eyes, "I have won no right, I
suppose, to be seen more significantly by you. Only, I want you to
understand that I don't see myself like that."

Again Imogen felt the unpleasant sensation of being made to seem young
and inexperienced. Her mother's very quiet before exhortation; her sad
relapse into grave kindliness, a kindliness, too, not without its touch of
severity, showed that she possessed, or thought that she possessed, some
inner assurance for which Imogen could find no ground. In answering her she
grasped at all her own.

"I'm very sure you don't," she said, "for I don't for one moment misjudge
your sincerity. And what I want you to believe, my dear mother, is that I
long for the time when any strength and insight I may have gained through
my long fight, by _his_ side, may be of use to you. _Trust_ your own best
vision of yourself and it will some day realize itself. I will trust it
too, indeed, indeed, I will. We must grow if we keep a vision,"

Mrs. Upton now raised her eyes and looked swiftly but deeply at her
daughter. It was a look that left many hopes behind it. It was a look
that armed other, and quite selfless, hopes, with its grave and watchful
understanding. The understanding would not have been so clear had it not
been fed by all the springs of baffled tenderness that only so could find
their uses. Giving her daughter's hands a final shake, as if over some
compact, perhaps over that of growth, she turned away. Tison, who had
followed her into the room and had stood for long looking up at the
colloquy that ignored him, jumped against her dress and she stooped and
picked him up, pressing her cheek against his silken side.

"You had better dress now, Imogen," she said, in tones of astonishing
commonplace. "You've only time. I've kept you so long." And holding Tison
against her cheek she went to the window.



XI


The tableaux were not to come off until the end of April, and Jack, having
set things in motion, was in Boston at the beginning of the month. It was
at this time that Mrs. Upton, too, was in Boston, with her old friend and
his great-aunt, and it was at this time that he came, as he phrased it to
himself, really into touch with her.

Jack's aunt lived in a spacious, peaceful house on the hill, and the
windows of Jack's large flat, near by, looked over the Common, the Gardens,
the Charles River, a cheerful, bird's-eye view of the tranquil city,
breathed upon now by the first, faint green of spring.

Jack was pleased that Mrs. Upton and his aunt--a mild, blanched old lady
with silvery side-curls under the arch of an old-fashioned bonnet-should
often come to tea with him, for in the arrangement of his rooms-that
looked so unarranged--he felt sure that she must recognize a taste as fine
and fastidious as her own. He suspected Mrs. Upton of finding him merely
ethical and he was eager that she should see that his grasp on life was
larger than she might imagine. His taste was fine and fastidious; it was
also disciplined and gracefully vagrant; she must see that in the few but
perfect pictures and mezzotints on his walls; the collection of old white
Chinese porcelain standing about the room on black carved stands; in his
wonderful black lacquer cabinets and in all the charming medley of the rare
and the appropriate.

Certainly, whatever was Mrs. Upton's impression of him, she frequently
expressed herself as delighted with his rooms, and as they sat in the deep
window-seat, which commanded the view of the city, he felt more and more
sure that whatever that impression of him might be, it rested upon an
essential liking. It was pleasant to Jack to feel sure of this, little as
he might be able to justify to himself his gratification. Somehow, with
Mrs. Upton, he didn't find himself occupied with justifying things. The
ease that she had always made for him shone out, now, uninterruptedly, and
as they talked, while the dear old aunt sat near, turning the leaves of a
book, joining in with a word now and then, it was, in the main, the soft,
sweet sense of ease, like the breath of violets in the air, that surrounded
him. They talked of all sorts of things, or rather, as he said to himself,
they babbled, for real talk could hardly be so discursive, so aimless,
so merely merry. She made him think of a child playing with a lapful of
flowers; that was what her talk was like. She would spread them out in
formal rows, arrange them in pretty, intricate posies, or, suddenly, gather
them into generous handfuls which she gave you with a pleased glance and
laugh. It was queer to find a person who took all "talk" so lightly and who
yet, he felt quite sure, took some things hard. It was like the contrast
between her indolent face and her clear, unbiased gaze, that would not
flinch or deceive itself from or about anything that it met. Apparently
most of the things that it met she didn't take solemnly. The world, as far
as he could guess, was for her mainly made up of rather trivial things,
whether hours or people; but, with his new sense of enlightenment, he
more and more came to realize that it might be so made up and yet, to her
apprehension, be very bad, very sad, and very worth while too. And after
seeing her as a child playing with flowers he could imagine her in some
suddenly heroic rôle--as one of the softly nurtured women of the French
Revolution, for instance, a creature made up of little gaieties, little
griefs; of sprigged silk and gossamer, powder and patches; blossoming,
among the horrors of a hopeless prison, into courageous graces. She would
smile, talk, play cards with them, those doomed ones, she herself doomed;
she would make life's last day livable, in every exquisite sense of the
word. And he could see her in the tumbril, her arm round a terrified girl;
he could see her mounting the steps of the guillotine, perhaps with no
upward glance to heaven, but with a composure as resolute and as serene as
any saint's.

These were strange visions to cross his mind as they sat and talked, while
she made posies for him, and even when they did not hover he often found
himself dwelling with a sort of touched tenderness upon something vaguely
pathetic in her. Perhaps it was only that he found it pathetic to see her
look so young when, measured beside his own contrasted youth, he felt how
old she was. It was pathetic that eyes so clear should fade, that a cheek
so rounded should wither, that the bloom and softness and freshness that
her whole being expressed should be evanescent. Jack was not given to such
meditations, having a robust, transcendental indifference to earthly gauds
unless he could fit them into ethical significances. It was, indeed, no
beauty such as Imogen's that he felt in Mrs. Upton. He was not consciously
aware that her loveliness was of a subtler, finer quality than her
daughter's. She did not remind him of a Madonna nor of anything to do with
a temple. But the very fact that he couldn't tabulate and pigeon-hole her
with some uplifting analogy made her appeal the most direct that he had
ever experienced. The dimness of her lashes; the Japanese-like oddity of
her smile; the very way in which her hair turned up from her neck with an
eddy of escaping tendrils,--these things pervaded his consciousness. He
didn't like to think of her being hurt and unhappy, and he often wondered
if she wasn't bound to be both. He wondered about her a great deal. He
received, on every day they met, hints and illuminations, but never the
clear revealment that he hoped for. The thing that grew surer and surer
for him was her essential liking, and the thing that became sweeter and
sweeter, though the old perplexity mingled with it, was the superficial
amusement he caused her. One of the things that, he began to see, amused
her a little was the catholicity of taste displayed in the books scattered
about his rooms, the volumes of French and Italian that the great-aunt
would take up while they talked. They were books that she felt, he was
quite sure, as funnily incongruous with his whole significance, and that
their presence there meant none of the things that in another environment
they would have stood for; neither cosmopolitanism nor an unbiased
connoisseurship interested in all the flowers--_du mal_ among the rest--of
the human intelligence. That they meant for him his own omniscient
appreciation, unshakenly sure of the ethical category into which he could
place each fruit, however ominous its tainted ripeness; each flower,
however freaked with perverse tints, left her mildly skeptical; so
that he felt, with just a flicker of his old irritation, that the very
plentifulness of esthetic corruption that he could display to her testified
for her to his essential guilelessness, and, perhaps, to a blandness and
narrowness of nature that lacked even the capacity for infection. Jack had
to own to himself that, though he strove to make it rigorously esthetic,
his seeing of d'Annunzio--to take at random one of the _fleurs du mal_--was
as a shining, a luridly splendid warning of what happened to decadent
people in unpleasant Latin countries. Such lurid splendor was as far from
him as the horrors of the Orestean Trilogy. In Mrs. Upton's eyes this
distance, though a distinct advantage for him, was the result of no choice
or conflict, but of environment merely, and she probably thought that the
problems of Nietzschean ethics were not to be solved and disposed of by
people whom they could never touch. But all the same, and it was here that
the atoning softness came in, he felt that she liked him the better for
being able to see a _fleur du mal_ only as if it were a weird pressed
product under a glass case. And if he amused her it was not because of
any sense of superior wisdom; she didn't deny her consciousness of wider
contrasts, but she made no claim at all for deeper insight;--the very way
in which she talked over the sinister people with him showed that,--asking
him his opinion about this or that and opening a volume here and there to
read out in her exquisite French or Italian some passage whose full beauty
he had never before so realized. Any criticism or comment that she offered
was, evidently, of the slightest weight in her own estimation; but, there
again one must remember, so many things seemed light to Mrs. Upton, so
light, indeed, that he had often with her a sense of pressures removed and
an easier world altogether.

"The trouble with him--with all his cleverness and beauty--is that his
picture isn't true," Mrs. Upton said of d'Annunzio, standing with a volume
in her hand in the clear afternoon light.

"True to him," Jack amended, alert for the displayal of his own
comprehension.

"I can't think it. Life is always, for everybody, so much more commonplace
than he dares make it. He is afraid of the commonplace; he won't face it;
and the revenge life takes on people who do that, people who are really
afraid, people who attitudinize, is to infect them in some subtle, mocking
way with the very thing they are trying to escape."

"Well, but he isn't commonplace."

"No; worse; he's silly." She had put down the book and taken up another,
an older one. "Clough,--how far one must travel from d'Annunzio to come to
him.

  'It fortifies my soul to know
  That though I perish, Truth is so.'"

She meditated the Stoic flavor.

"The last word of heroism, of faith," Jack said, thinking of the tumbril.
But Valerie turned the leaf a little petulantly. "Heroism? Why?"

"Why,"--as usual he was glad to show her that, if she really wanted to see
clearly, he could show her where clearness, of the best sort, lay,--"why,
the man who can say that is free. He has abdicated every selfish claim to
the Highest."

"Highest? Why should it fortify my soul to know that truth is 'so' if 'so'
happens to be some man-devouring dragon of a world-power?"

"Clough assumed, of course, that the truth was high--as it might be, even
if it devoured one."

"I've no use for a truth that would have no better use for me," smiled
Valerie, and on this he tried to draw her on, from her rejection of such
heroism, to some exposal of her own conception of truth, her own opinions
about life, a venture in which he always failed. Not that she purposely
eluded. She listened, grave, interested, but, when the time came for her to
make her contribution, fingering about, metaphorically, in a purse, which,
though not at all empty, contained, apparently, a confused medley of
coinage. If she could have found the right coin, she would have tendered
it gladly; but she seemed to consider a vague chink as all that could be
really desired of her, to take it for granted that he knew that he had lost
nothing of any value.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sometimes he and Mrs. Upton, Tison trotting at their heels, took walks
together, passing down the steep old streets, austere and cheerful, to the
gardens and along the wide avenue with its lines of trees and broad strip
of turf, on and out to the bridge that spanned the river. They enjoyed
together the view of the pale expanse of water, placidly flowing in the
windless sunshine, and, when they turned to come back, their favorite
aspect of the town. They could see it, then, silhouetted in the vague grays
and reds of its old houses, climbing from the purplish maze of tree-tops in
the Common, climbing with a soft, jostling irregularity, to where the dim
gold bubble of the State House dome rounded on the sky. It almost made one
think, so silhouetted, of a Dürer etching.

"Dear place," Mrs. Upton would sigh restfully, and that she was resting in
all her stay here, resting from the demands, the adjustments, of her new
life, he was acutely aware. Resting from Imogen. Yes, why shouldn't he very
simply face that fact? He, too, felt, for the first time, that Imogen had
rather tired him and that he was glad of this interlude before taking up
again the unresolved discord where they had left it. Imogen's last word
about her mother had been that very ominous "Wait and see," and Jack felt
that the discord had grown, more complicated from the fact that, quite
without waiting, he saw a great deal that Imogen, apparently, did not. He
had seen so much that he was willing to wait for whatever else he was to
see with very little perturbation of mind, and that, in the meanwhile, as
many Sir Basils as it pleased Mrs. Upton to have write to her should do so.

But Mrs. Upton talked a great deal about Imogen, so much that he came
to suspect her of adjusting the conversation to some supposed craving
in himself. She had never asked a question about his relations with her
daughter, accepting merely with interest any signs they might choose to
give her, but insinuating no hint of an appeal for more than they might
choose to give. She probably took for granted what was the truth of the
situation, that it rested with Imogen to make it a definite one. She
did not treat him as an accepted lover, nor yet as a rejected one; she
discriminated with the nicest delicacy. What she allowed herself to see,
the ground she went upon, was his deep interest, his deep attachment. In
that light he was admitted by degrees to an intimacy that he knew he could
hardly have won so soon on his own merits. She had observed him; she had
thought him over; she liked him for himself; but, far more than this, she
liked him for Imogen. He often guessed, from a word or look, at a deep core
of feeling in her where her repressed, unemphatic, yet vigilant, maternity
burned steadily. From her growing fondness for him he could gage how fond
she must be of Imogen. The nearness that this made for them was wholly
delightful to Jack, were it not embittered by the familiar sense, sharper
than ever now, of self-questioning and restlessness. A year ago, six months
ago--no, three months only, just before her own coming--how exquisitely
such sympathy, such understanding would have fitted into all his needs. He
could have talked to her, then, by the hour, frankly, freely, joyously,
about Imogen. And the restlessness now was to feel that it was just
because of her coming, because of the soft clear light that she had so
unconsciously, so revealingly, diffused, that things had, in some odd way,
taken on a new color, so that the whole world, so that Imogen especially,
looked different, so that he couldn't any longer be frank, altogether. It
would have been part of the joy, three months ago, to talk over his loving
perception of Imogen's little foibles and childishnesses, to laugh, with
a loving listener, over her little complacencies and pomposities. He had
taken them as lightly as that, then. They had really counted for nothing.
Now they had come to count for so much, and all because of that clear,
soft light, that he really couldn't laugh at them. He couldn't laugh at
them, and since he couldn't do that he must keep silence over them, and
as a result the talks about Imogen with Imogen's mother were, for his
consciousness, a little random and at sea. Imogen's mother confidently
based their community on a shared vision, and that he kept back his real
impression of what he saw was made all the worse by his intuition that she,
too, kept back hers, that she talked from his supposed point of view, as
it were, and didn't give him a glimmer of her own. She loved Imogen, or,
perhaps, rather, she loved her daughter; but what did she think of Imogen?
That was the question that had grown so sharp.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the day before he and Mrs. Upton went back together to New York, Jack
gave a little tea that was almost a family affair. Cambridge had been one
of their expeditions, in Rose Packer's motor-car, and there Eddy Upton had
given them tea in his room overlooking the elms of the "Yard" at Harvard.
Jack's tea was in some sort a return, for Eddy and Rose both were there and
that Rose, in Eddy's eyes, didn't count as an outsider was now an accepted
fact.

Eddy had taken the sudden revelation of his poverty with great coolness,
and Jack admired the grim resolution with which he had cut down expenses
while relaxing in no whit his hold on the nonchalant beauty. Poverty would,
to a certain extent, bar him out from Rose's sumptuous world, and Rose did
not seem to take him very seriously as a suitor; but it was evident that
Eddy did not intend to remain poor any longer than he could possibly help
it and evident, too, that his assurance in regard to sentimental ambitions
had its attractions for her. They chaffed and sparred with each other and
under the flippant duel there flashed now and then the encounters of a real
one. Rose denied the possession of a heart, but Eddy's wary steel might
strike one day to a defenceless tenderness. She liked him, among many
others, very much. And she was, as she frequently declared, in love with
his mother. Jack never took Rose seriously; she remained for him a pretty,
trivial, malicious child; but to-day he was pleased by the evidences of her
devotion.

The little occasion, presided over by Valerie, bloomed for him. Everybody
tossed nosegays, everybody seemed happy; and it was Rose, sitting in a
low chair beside Mrs. Upton's sofa, who summed it up for him with the
exclamation, "I do so love being with you, Mrs. Upton! What is it you do
to make people so comfortable?"

"She doesn't do anything, people who do things make one uncomfortable,"
remarked Eddy, lounging in his chair and eating sandwiches. "She is, that's
all."

"What is she then," Rose queried, her eyes fixed with a fond effrontery on
Valerie's face. "She's like everything nice, I know; nice things to look
at, to hear, to taste, to smell, to touch. Let us do her portrait, Eddy,
you know the analogy game. What flower does she remind you of? and what
food? Acacia; raspberries and cream. What musical instrument? What animal?
Help me, Jack."

"The musical instrument is a chime of silver bells," said Jack, while
Valerie looked from one to the other with amused interest. "And the animal
is, I think, a bird; a bright, soft-eyed bird, that flits and poises on
tall grasses."

"Yes; that does. And now we will do you, Jack. You are like a very nervous,
very brave dog."

"And like a Christmas rose," said Valerie, "and like a flute."

"And the food he reminds me of," finished Eddy, "is baked beans."

"Good," said Rose. "Now, Imogen. What flower is she like? Jack, you will
tell us."

Jack looked suddenly like the nervous dog, and Rose handsomely started the
portrait with, "Calla lily."

"That's it," Eddy agreed. "And the food she's like is cold lemon-shape, you
know the stuff I mean; and her animal,--there is no animal for Imogen; she
is too loftily human."

"Her instrument is the organ," Rose finished, as if to end as handsomely as
she had begun; "the organ playing the Pilgrims' March from 'Tannhäuser.'"

"Excellent," said Eddy.

These young people had done the portrait without help and after the slight
pause with which their analogies were received Jack swiftly summed up Rose
as _Pâte-de-foie-gras_, gardenia, a piano, and a toy Pomeranian.

"Thanks," Rose bowed; "I enjoy playing impudence to your dignity."

"What's Imogen up to just now?" Eddy asked, quite unruffled by Jack's
reflections on his beloved. "When did you see her last, Jack?"

"I went down for a dress-rehearsal the day before yesterday." Jack had
still the air of the nervous dog, walking cautiously, the hair of its back
standing upright.

"Oh, the Cripple-Hellenic affair. How Imogen loves running a show."

"And how well she does it," said Rose. "What a perfect queen she would have
made. She would have laid corner-stones; opened bazaars; visited hospitals,
and bowed so beautifully from a carriage--with such a sense of
responsibility in the quality of her smile."

"How inane you are, Rose," said Jack. "Nothing less queen-like, in that
decorative sense, than Imogen, can be imagined. She works day and night for
this thing in which you pretty young people get all the sixpences and she
all the kicks. To bear the burden is all she does, or asks to do."

"Why, my dear Jack," Rose opened widely candid eyes, "queens have to work
like fun, I can tell you. And who under the sun would think of kicking
Imogen?"

"Besides," said Eddy, rising to saunter about the room, his hands in his
pockets, "Imogen isn't so superhuman as your fond imagination paints her,
my dear Jack. She knows that the most decorative rôle of all is just that,
the weary, patient Atlas, bearing the happy world on his shoulders."

Mrs. Upton, in her corner of the sofa, had been turning the leaves of a
rare old edition, glancing up quietly at the speakers while the innocent
ripples slid on from the afternoon's first sunny shallows to these
ambiguous depths. It was now in a voice that Jack had never heard from her
before that she said, still continuing to turn, her eyes downcast:

"How excessively unkind and untrue, Eddy."

If conscious of unkindness, Eddy, at all events, didn't resort to artifice
as Rose,--Jack still smarted from it,--had done. He continued to smile,
taking, up a small, milky vase to examine it, while he answered in his
chill, cheerful tones: "Don't be up in arms, mama, because one of your
swans gives the other a fraternal peck. Imogen and I always peck at each
other; it's not behind her back alone that I do it. And I'm saying nothing
nasty. It's only people like Imogen who get the good works of the world
done at all. If they didn't love it, just; if they didn't feel the delight
in it that an artist feels in his work, or that Rose feels in dancing
better and looking prettier than any girl in a ball-room,--that any one
feels in self-realization,--why, the cripples would die off like anything."

"It's a very different order of self-realization"; Mrs. Upton continued to
turn her leaves.

Jack knew that she was deeply displeased, and mingled with his own baffled
vexation was the relief of feeling himself at one with her, altogether
at one, in opposition to this implied criticism of Imogen. Together they
shared the conviction--was it the only one they shared about Imogen?--that
she simply cared about being good more than about anything else in the
world; together they recognized such a purpose and such a longing as a high
and an ennobling one.

The tone of her last remark had been final. The talk passed at once away
from Imogen and turned on Jack's last acquisitions in white porcelain and
on his last piece of work, just returned from a winter exhibition. Eddy
went with him into the studio to see it and Mrs. Upton and Rose were left
alone. It was then that Mrs. Upton, touching the other's shoulder so that
she looked up from the fur she was fastening, said, "You are not a nice
little girl, Rose."

The "little girl" stared. Anything so suave yet so firmly intended as
unpleasant had never been addressed to her. For once in her life she was at
a loss; and after the stare she flushed scarlet, the tears rushing to her
eyes.

"Oh, Mrs. Upton," she faltered, "what do you mean?"

"Hitting in the dark isn't a nice thing to do."

"Hitting in the dark?"

"Yes. You know quite well."

"Oh, but really, really,--I didn't mean--" Rose almost wailed. There was no
escape from those clear eyes. They didn't look sad or angry; they merely
penetrated, spreading dismay within her.

Mrs. Upton now took the flushed face between her hands and gravely
considered it. "_Didn't_ you?" she asked.

Rose could look back no longer. Before that gaze a sense of utter darkness
descended upon her. She felt, helplessly, like a naughty, cowering child.
Her eyes dropped and the tears rolled down her cheeks.

"Please, please forgive me. I didn't dream you'd understand. I didn't mean
anybody to understand, except, perhaps, Eddy. I don't know why, it's odious
of me--but Imogen does irritate me, just a little, just because she is so
good, you know--so lovely."

But this, too, Mrs. Upton penetrated. "Whether Imogen is so good and lovely
that she irritates you is another matter. But, whatever you may think of
her, don't,"--and here she paused a little over the proper expressing of
Rose's misdeed,--"don't call her a calla lily," she found. And she
finished, "Especially not before her mother, who is not so blind to your
meaning as we must hope that Jack is."

Poor Rose looked now like the naughty child after a deserved chastisement.

"Oh, I am so miserable"; this statement of smarting fact was all she found
to say. "And I do care for you so. I would rather please you than any
one.--Can't you forgive me?"

But at this point the darkness was lifted, for Mrs. Upton, smiling at last,
put her arms around her, kissed her, and said, "Be a nice little girl."



XII


Imogen, during this fortnight of her mother's absence, had time to
contemplate her impressions of change.

Their last little scene together had emphasized her consciousness of the
many things that lay beneath it.

Her mother had felt that the tears on that occasion were in part a result
of the day's earlier encounter, muffled though it was, over Sir Basil, and
had attempted, on ground of her own choosing, to lure her child away from
the seeing, not only of Sir Basil--he was a mere symbol--but of all the
things where she must know that Imogen saw her as wrong.

"She wanted to blur my reason with instinct; to mesh me in the blind filial
thing," Imogen reflected. In looking back she could feel with satisfaction
that her reason had dominated the scene as a lighthouse beacon shines
steadily over tossing and ambiguous waters. Satisfaction was in the vision;
the deep content of having, as she would have expressed it, "been true to
her light." But it was only in this vision of her own stability of soul
that satisfaction lay.

In Jack's absence, and in her mother's, she could gage more accurately what
her mother had done to Jack. She had long felt it, that something different
growing vaguely in him--so vaguely that it was like nothing with a definite
edge or shape, resembling, rather, a shadow of the encompassing gloom, a
shadow that only her own far-reaching beams revealed. As the light hovers
on the confines of the dark she had felt--a silence.

He was silent--he watched. That was the summing up of the change. He really
seemed to convey to her through his silence that he understood her now,
or was coming to, better than he had ever done before, better than she
understood herself. And with the new understanding it was exactly as if he
had found that his focus was misdirected. He no longer looked up; Imogen
knew that by the fact that when, metaphorically, her eyes were cast down
to meet with approbation and sweet encouragement his upturned admiration,
vacancy, only, met their gaze. He no longer--so her beam pierced further
and further--looked at her on a level, with the frankness of mere mutual
need and trust. No; such silence, such watchfulness implied superiority.
The last verge of shadow was reached when she could make out that he
looked at her from an affectionate, a paternal,--oh, yes, still a very
lover-like,--height, not less watchful for being tender; not less steady
for being, still, rather puzzled. Beyond that she couldn't pierce. It was
indeed a limit denoting a silent revolution in their relationship. When she
came to the realization, Imogen, starting back, indignant through all her
being, promised herself that if he looked down she, at all events, would
never lend herself to the preposterous topsy-turvydom by looking up. She
would firmly ignore that shift of focus. She would look straight before
her; she would look, as she spoke, the truth. She "followed her gleam." She
stood beside her beacon. And she told herself that her truth, her holding
to it, might cost her a great deal.

It was not that she feared to lose him,--if she chose to keep him; but it
might be that there were terms on which she would not care to keep him. If,
it was still an almost unimaginable "if," he could not, would not come once
more to see clearly, then, as lover, he must be put aside, and even as
friend learn that she had little use for a friendship so warped from its
old attitude.

Under this stoic resolve there was growing in poor Imogen a tossing of
confused pain and alarm. She could see change so clearly, but causes were
untraceable, an impalpable tangle.

Why was it so? What had happened? What, above all, had her mother done to
Jack?

It was all about her mother that change centered, from her that it came.
It was a web, a complexity of airy filaments that met her scrutiny. Here
hovered her mother's smile, here her thoughtful, observant silences. There
Sir Basil's letter; Felkin's departure; all the blurred medley of the
times when she had talked to Jack and Mary and her mother had listened. A
dimness, a haze, was over all, and she only escaped it, broke through it,
when, fighting her way out to her own secure air and sunlight, she told
herself,--as, at all events, the nearest truth to hand,--that it was about
Jack, over him, that the web had been spun: the web of a smile that claimed
nothing, yet that chained men; the web of a vague, sweet silence, that
judged nothing, yet softly blighted, through its own indifference, all
other people's enthusiasms. And again and again, during these days of
adjustment to the clear and the confused vision, Imogen felt the salt hot
tears burning in her throat and eyes.

When Jack and her mother were both back again and he and she united in the
mechanical interests of the tableaux, now imminent, the strangest
loneliness lay in the fact that she could no longer share her grief, her
fear, her anger, with Jack, He was there, near her; but he was, far, far
away; and she must control any impulse that would draw him near.

She put him to the test; she measured his worth by his power of
recognition, his power of discrimination between her mother's instinctive
allurements and her own high demand. But while with her mind and soul, as
she told herself, she thus held him away, she was conscious of the inner
wail of loneliness and unconscious that, under the steady resolution, every
faculty, every charm she possessed, was spinning and stretching itself out
to surround and hold him.

She made no appeal, but he would feel her quiet sadness weigh upon him;
she made no reproach, but she knew that he could but be full of pity for
her weariness, of love for her devotedness, when her pale profile bent by
lamplight over all the tedious work of the tableaux; knew that her patient
"Good-night, dear Jack,--I'm too tired to stay and talk," must smite him
with compunction and uneasiness.

It was no direct communication; she used symbols to convey to him the
significance that he seemed to be forgetting. She took him to one of Miss
Bocock's lectures, gently disowning praise for her part in their success.
She took him to the hospital for cripple children, where the nurses smiled
at her and the children clambered, crutches and all, into her lap,--she
knew how lovely she must look, enfolding cripple children. She took both
her mother and him to her Girls' Club on the East side, where they saw her
surrounded by adoring gratitude and enthusiasm, where she sat hand in hand
with her "girls," all sympathy, all tenderness, all interest,--all the
things that Jack had loved her for and that he still, of course, loved her
for. Here she must seem to him like a sister of charity, carrying high
her lamp of love among these dark lives. And she was careful that their
reflected light should shine back upon her. "I want you to know a dear
friend of mine, Jack, Miss Mc-Ginty; and this, Evangeline, is my friend,
Mr. Pennington,"--so she would lead him up to one of the girls, bold
and gay of eye, highly decorated of person. She knew that she left her
reputation in safe hands with Evangeline. "Are you a friend of Miss
Upton's? She's _fine_. We're all just crazy about her." She had, as she
went from them, the satisfaction of hearing so much of Evangeline's crude
but sincere pæon; they were all "just crazy" about her.

And a further shining of light suggested itself to her.

"Mamma darling," she said, as they were going home in the clashing,
clattering "elevated," "you mustn't think me naughty, but I had to ask
them--my own particular girls--to go with us to the Philharmonic. They are
becoming so interested in their music and it will be a treat for them, will
really mean something in their lives, will really live for them, _in_
them."

Mrs. Upton leaned forward to listen in the mingled uproar of banging doors
and vociferous announcements from the conductor. A look of uncertainty
crossed her face and Imogen hastened to add: "No, it's not the extravagance
you think. I had a splendid idea. I'm going to sell that old ring that
Grandmamma Cray left me. Rose told me once that I could get a lot of money
for it."

Swiftly flushing, her brows knitted, the din about them evidently adding to
her perturbation, Mrs. Upton, with a sharpness of utterance that Jack had
never heard from her, said: "Your sapphire ring? Your grandmother's ring?
Indeed, indeed, Imogen, I must ask you not to do that!"

"Why, mama dear, why?" Imogen's surprise was genuine and an answering
severity was checked by Jack's presence.

"It was my mother's ring."

"But what better use could I make of it, mama? I rarely wear any ring but
the beautiful pearl that papa gave me."

"I couldn't bear to have you sell it."

"But, mama dear, why? I must ask it. How can I sacrifice so much for a mere
whim?"

"I must ask you to yield to a mere whim, then. Pray give up the thought. We
will find the money in some other way."

"Of course, mama, if you insist, I must yield," Imogen said, sinking
back in her seat beside the attentive Jack, and hoping that her mournful
acquiescence might show in its true light to him, even if her mother's
sentimental selfishness didn't. And later, when he very prettily insisted
on himself entertaining the club-girls at the Philharmonic, she felt that,
after all, no one but her mother had lost in the encounter. The girls were
to have their concert (though they might have had many such, had not her
mother so robbed them, there was still that wound) and she was to keep her
ring; and she was not sorry for that, for it did go well with the pearl.
Above all, Jack must have appreciated both her generous intention and her
relinquishing of it. Yet she had just to test his appreciation.

"Indeed I do accept, Jack. I can't bear to have them disappointed for a
childish fancy, like that of poor mama's, and we have no right to afford it
by any other means. Isn't it strange that any one should care more for a
colored bit of stone than for some high and shining hours in those girls'
gray lives?"

But Jack said: "Oh, I perfectly understand what she felt about it. It was
her mother's ring. She probably remembers seeing it on her mother's hand."
So Imogen had, again, to recognize the edge of the shadow.

They, all of them, Jack, Mary, and her mother, went with her and her girls
to the concert. Jack had taken two boxes in the semicircle that sweeps
round Carnegie Hall, overhanging the level sea of heads below. Rose Packer,
just come to town, was next them, with the friends she was visiting in New
York, two pretty, elaborately dressed girls, frothing with youthful high
spirits, and their mother, an abundant, skilfully-girthed matron. The
Langleys were very fashionable and very wealthy; their houses in America,
England, Italy, their yachts and motorcars, their dances and dinners,
furnished matter for constant and uplifted discourse in the society columns
of the English-speaking press all over the world. Every one of Imogen's
factory girls knew them by name and a stir of whispers and nudges announced
their recognition.

Mrs. Langley leaned over the low partition to clasp Mrs. Upton's
hand,--they had known each other since girlhood,--and to smile benignly
upon Imogen, casting a glance upon the self-conscious, staring girls, whose
clothing was a travesty of her own consummate modishness as their manners
at once attempted to echo her sweetness and suavity.

"What a nice idea," she murmured to Imogen; "and to have them hear it in
the best way possible, too. Not crowded into cheap, stuffy seats."

"That would hardly have been possible, since I do not myself care to hear
music in cheap seats. What is not good enough for me is not good enough for
my friends. To-day we all owe our pleasure to Mr. Pennington."

Mrs. Langley, blandly interested in this creditable enlightenment, turned
to Jack with questioning about the tableaux.

"We are all so much interested in Imogen's interests, aren't we? It's such
an excellent idea. My girls are so sorry that they can't be in them. Rose
tells me, Imogen, that there was some idea of your doing Antigone."

"None whatever," said Imogen, with no abatement of frigidity. She
disapproved of leaders of fashion.

"I only meant," Rose leaned forward, "that we wanted you to, so much,"

"And can't you persuade her? You would look so well, my dear child. Talk
her over, Valerie, you and Mr. Pennington." Mrs. Langley looked back at her
friend.

"It would hardly do just now, I think," Valerie answered.

"But for a charity--" Mrs. Langley urged her mitigation with a smile that
expressed, to Imogen's irritated sensibilities, all the trite conformity of
the mammon-server.

"I don't think it would do," Valerie repeated.

"Pray don't think my motive in refusing a conventional one," said Imogen,
with an irrepressible severity that included her mother as well as Rose and
Mrs. Langley. These two sank back in their seats and the symphony began.

Resting her cheek on her hand, her elbow on her knee, Imogen leaned
forward, as if out of the perplexing, weary world into the sphere of
the soul. She smiled deeply at one of her girls while she fell into the
listening harmony of attitude, and her delicate face took on a look of rapt
exaltation.

Jack was watching her, she knew; though she did not know that her own
consciousness of the fact effectually prevented her from receiving as more
than a blurred sensation the sounds that fell upon her ear.

She adjusted her face, her attitude, as a painter expresses an idea through
the medium of form, and her idea was to look as though feeling the noblest
things that one can feel. And at the end of the first movement, the vaguely
heard harmony without responding to the harmony of this inner purpose, the
music's tragic acceptance of doom echoing her own deep sense of loneliness,
the strange new sorrow tangling her life, tears rose beautifully to her
eyes; a tear slid down her cheek.

She put up her handkerchief quietly and dried it, glancing now at Jack
beside her. He was making a neat entry in a note-book, technically
interested in the rendering by a new conductor. The sight struck through
her and brought her soaring sadness to earth. Anger, deep and gnawing,
filled her. He had not seen her tears, or, if he had, did not care that
she was sad. It was little consolation for her hurt to see good Mary's
eyes fixed on her with wide solicitude. She smiled, ever so gravely and
tenderly, at Mary, and turned her eyes away.

A babble of silly enthusiasm had begun in the Langley box and Rose had
just effected a change of seat that brought her next to her adored Mrs.
Upton and nearer her dear Mary. Imogen almost felt that hostile forces had
clustered behind her back, especially as Jack turned in his chair to talk
to Mary and her mother.

"Just too lovely!" exclaimed one of the younger Miss Langleys, in much the
same vernacular as that used by Imogen's _protégées_.

She looked round at these to see one yawning cavernously, on the cessation
of uncomprehended sound; while another's eyes, drowsed as if by some
narcotic, sought the relief of visual interest in the late-comers who filed
in below. A third sat in an attitude of sodden preoccupation, breathing
heavily and gazing at the Langleys and at Rose, who wore to-day a wonderful
dress. Only a rounded little Jewess, with eyes of black lacquer set in a
fat, acquiline face, quite Imogen's least favorite of her girls, showed a
proper appreciation. She was as intent and as preoccupied as Jack had been.

The second movement began, a movement hurrying, dissatisfied, rising in
appeal and aspiration, beaten back; turning upon itself continually,
continually to rise again,--baffled, frustrated, yet indomitable. And as
Imogen listened her features took on a mask-like look of gloom. How alone
she was among them all.

She was glad in the third movement, her mind in its knotted concentration
catching but one passage, and that given with a new rendering, to emphasize
her displeasure by a little shudder and frown. An uproar of enthusiasm
arose after the movement and Imogen heard one of the factory girls behind
her, in answer to a question from her mother, ejaculate "_Fine!_"

When her mother leaned to her, with the same "Wasn't it splendid?" Imogen
found relief in answering firmly, "I thought it insolent."

"Insolent? That adagio bit?"--Jack, evidently, had seen her symptoms of
distress.--"Why, I thought it a most exquisite interpretation."

"So did I," said Mrs. Upton rather sadly from behind.

"It hurt me, mama dear," said Imogen. "But then I know this symphony so
well, love it so much, that I perhaps feel intolerantly toward new
readings."

As the next, and last, movement began, she heard Rose under her breath yet
quite loud enough, murmur, "Bunkum!" The ejaculation was nicely modulated
to reach her own ears alone.

With a deepened sense of alienation, Imogen sat enveloped by the unheard
thunders of the final movement. Yes, Rose would hide her impertinence from
others' ears. Imogen had noted the growing tenderness, light and playful,
between her mother and the girl. Behind her, presently, she rustled in all
her silks as she leaned to whisper something to Mrs. Upton--"You will come
and have tea with me,--at Sherry's,--all by ourselves?" Imogen caught.

Her mother was not the initiator, but her acquiescence was an offense, and
to Imogen, acutely conscious of the whispered colloquy, each murmur ran
needles of anger into her stretched and vibrating nerves. At last she
turned eyes portentously widened and a prolonged "Ss-s-s-h" upon them.

"People _oughtn't_ to whisper," Jack smiled comprehendingly at her, when
they reached the end of the symphony; the rest of the movement having been
occupied, for Imogen, with a sense of indignant injury.

She had caught his attention, then, with her reproof. There was sudden balm
in his sympathy. The memory of the unnoticed tear still rankled in her, but
she was able to smile back. "Some people will always be the money-lenders
in the temple."

At once the balm was embittered. She had trusted too much to his sympathy.
He flushed his quick, facile flush, and she was again at the confines of
the shadow. Really, it was coming to a pass when she could venture no least
criticism, even by implication, of her mother.

But, keeping up her smile, she went on: "You don't feel that? To me,
music is a temple, the cathedral of my soul. And the chink of money, the
bartering of social trivialities, jars on me like a sacrilege."

He looked away, still with the flush. "Aren't we all, more or less,
worshipers or money-lenders by turn? My mind often strays."

"Not to the glitter of common coin," she insisted, urging with mildness his
own better self upon him; for, yes, rather than judge her mother he would
lower his own ideal. All the more reason, then, for her to hold fast to her
own truth, and see its light place him where it must. If he now thought her
priggish,--well, that _did_ place him.

"Oh, yes, it does, often," he rejoined; but now he smiled at her as though
her very solemnity, her very lack of humor, touched him; it was once more
the looking down of the shifted focus. Then he appealed a little.

"You mustn't be too hard on people for not feeling as you do--all the
time."

Consistency did not permit her an answer, for the next piece had begun.

When the concert was over, Mrs. Langley offered the hospitality of her
electric brougham to three of them. Rose and her girls were going to a tea
close by. Imogen said that she preferred walking and Jack said that he
would go with her; so Mary and Mrs. Upton departed with Mrs. Langley and,
the factory girls dispatched to their distances by subway, the young couple
started on their way down crowded Fifth Avenue.

It was a bright, reverberating day, dry and cloudless, and, as they
walked shoulder to shoulder, their heels rang metallically on the frosty
pavements. Above the sloping canon of the avenue, the sky stretched, a long
strip of scintillating blue. The "Flat-Iron" building towered appallingly
into the middle distance like the ship prow of some giant invasion. The
significance of the scene was of nothing nobly permanent, but it was
exhilarating in its expression of inquisitive, adventurous life, shaping
its facile ideals in vast, fluent forms.

Imogen's face, bathed in the late sunlight, showed its usual calm;
inwardly, she was drawn tight and tense as an arrow to the bow-head, in a
tingling readiness to shoot far and free at any challenge.

A surface constraint was manifested in Jack's nervous features, but she
guessed that his consciousness had not reached the pitch of her own
acuteness, and made him only aware of a difference as yet unadjusted
between them. Indeed, with a quiet interest that she knew was not assumed,
he presently commented to her on the odd disproportion between the
streaming humanity and its enormous frame.

"If one looks at it as a whole it's as inharmonious as a high, huge stage
with its tiny figures before the footlights. It's quite out of scale as a
setting for the human form. It's awfully ugly, and yet it's rather
splendid, too."

Imogen assented.

"We are still juggling with our possibilities," said Jack, and he continued
to talk on of the American people and their possibilities--his favorite
topic--so quietly, so happily, even, that Imogen felt suddenly a relaxation
of the miserable mood that had held her during all the afternoon.

His comradely tone brought her the sensation of their old, their so recent,
relation, complete, unflawed, once more. An impulse of recovery rose in
her, and, her mind busy with the sweet imagination, she said presently,
reflectively, "I think I will do your Antigone after all."

Completely without coquetry, and sincerely innocent of feminine wiles,
Imogen had always known, sub-consciously as it were, for the matter seldom
assumed the least significance for her, that Jack delighted in her personal
appearance. She saw herself, suddenly, in all the appealing youth and
beauty of the Grecian heroine, stamping on his heart, by means of the outer
manifestation, that inner reality to which he had become so strangely
blind. It was to this revelation of reality that her thought clung, and an
added impulse of mere tenderness had helped to bring the words to her lips.
In her essential childishness where emotion and the drama of the senses
were concerned, she could not have guessed that the impulse, with its
tender mask, was the primitive one of conquest, the cruel female instinct
for holding even where one might not care to keep. At the bottom of her
heart, a realm never visited by her unspotted thoughts, was a yearning,
strangely mingled, to be adored, and to wreak vengeance for the faltering
in adoration that she had felt. Ah, to bind him!--to bind him, helpless, to
her! That was the mingled cry.

Jack looked round at her, as unconscious as she of these pathetic and
tigerish depths, but though his eye lighted with the artist's delight in
the vision that he had relinquished reluctantly, she saw, in another
moment, that he hesitated.

"That would be splendid, dear,--but, can you go back on what you said?"

"Why not? If I have found reason to reconsider my first decision?"

"What reason? You mustn't do it just to please me, you know; though it's
sweet of you, if that is the reason. Your mother, you see, agreed with you.
I hadn't realized that she would mind. You know what she said, just now."

Jack had flushed in placing his objection, and Imogen, keeping grave,
sunlit eyes upon him, felt a flush rise to her own cheeks.

"Do you feel her minding, minding in such a way, any barrier?" She was able
to control the pain, the anger, that his hesitation gave her, the quick
humiliation, too, and she went on with only a deepening of voice:

"Perhaps that minding of hers is part of my reason. I have no right, I see
that clearly now, to withhold what I can do for our cause from any selfish
shrinking. I felt, in that moment when she and Mrs. Langley debated on the
conventional aspect of the matter, that I would be glad, yes, glad, to give
myself, since my refusal is seen in the same category as any paltry, social
scruple. It was as if a deep and sacred thing of one's heart were suddenly
dragged out and exhibited like a thickness of black at the edge of one's
note-paper.

"Will you understand me, Jack, when I say that I feel that I can in no way
so atone to that sacred memory for the interpretation that was an insult;
in no way keep it so safe, as by making it this offering of myself. It is
for papa that I shall do it. He would have wished it. I shall think of him
as I stand there, of him and of the children that we are helping."

She spoke with her deliberate volubility, neither hesitating nor hurrying,
her meaning, for all its grandiloquence of setting, very definite, and Jack
looked a little dazed, as though from the superabundance of meaning.

"Yes, I see,--yes, you are quite right," he said. He paused for a moment,
going over her chain of cause and effect, seeking the particular link that
the new loyalty in him had resented. And then, after the pause, finding it:
"But I don't believe your mother meant it like that," he added.

His eyes met Imogen's as he said it, and he almost fancied that something
swordlike clashed against his glance, something that she swiftly withdrew
and sheathed. It was earnest gentleness alone that answered him.

"What do you think she did mean then, Jack? Please help me to see if I'm
unfair. I only long to be perfectly fair. How can I do for her, unless I
am?"

His smoldering resentment was quenched by a sense of compunction and a
rising hope.

"That's dear of you, Imogen," he said. "You _are_, I think, unfair at
times. It's difficult to lay one's finger on it."

"But please _do_ lay your finger on it--as heavily as you can, dear Jack."

"Well, the simile will do for my impression. The finger you lay on _her_ is
too heavy. You exaggerate things in her--over-emphasize things."

She was holding herself, forcing herself to look calmly at this road he
pointed out to her, the only road, perhaps, that would lead her back to her
old place with him. "Admirable things, you think, if one saw them truly?"

"I don't know about admirable; but warm, sweet--at the worst, harmless.
I'm sure, to-day, that she only meant it for you, for what she felt must
be your shrinking. Of course she had her sense of fitness, too, a fitness
that we may, as you feel, overlook when we see the larger fitness. But
her intention was perfectly,"--he paused, seeking an expression for the
intention and repeated,--"Sweet, warm, harmless."

Imogen felt that she was holding herself as she had never held herself.

"Don't you think I see all that, Jack?"

"Well, I only meant that I, since coming to know her, really know her, in
Boston, see it most of all."

"And you can't see, too, how it must stab me to have papa--papa--put,
through her trivial words, into the category of black-edged paper?"

Her voice had now the note of tears.

"But she _doesn't_," he protested.

"Can you deny that, for her, he counts for little more than the mere
question of convention?"

Jack at this was, perforce, silent. No, he couldn't altogether deny it, and
though it did not seem to him a particularly relevant truth he could but
own that to Imogen it might well appear so. He did not answer her, and
there the incident seemed to end. But it left them both with the sense of
frustrated hope, and over and above that Jack had felt, sharper than ever
before, the old shoot of weariness for "papa" as the touchstone for such
vexed questions.



XIII


Mrs. Upton expressed no displeasure, although she could not control
surprise, when she was informed of Imogen's change of decision, and Jack,
watching her as usual, felt bound, after the little scene of her quiet
acquiescence, to return with Imogen, for a moment, to the subject of their
dispute. Imogen had asked him to help her to see and however hopeless he
might feel of any fundamental seeing on her part, he mustn't abandon hope
while there was a stone unturned.

"That's what it really was," he said to her. "You _do_ see, don't you?--to
respond to whatever she felt you wanted."

Imogen stared a little. "Of what are you talking, Jack?"

"Of your mother Antigone--the black edge. It wasn't the black edge."

She had understood in a moment and was all there, as fully equipped with
forbearing opposition as ever.

"It wasn't _even_ the black edge, you mean? Even that homage to his memory
was unreal?"

"Of course not. I mean that she wanted to do what you wanted."

"And does she think, do you think, it's _that_ I want,--a suave adaptation
to ideals she doesn't even understand? No doubt she attributes my change
to girlish vanity, the wish to shine among the others. If that was what I
wanted, that would be what she would want, too."

"Aren't you getting away from the point a little?" he asked, baffled and
confused, as he often was, by her measured decisiveness.

"It seems to me that I am _on_ the point.--The point is that she cared so
little about _him_--in either way."

This was what he had foreseen that she would think.

"The point is that she cares so much for you," he ventured his conviction,
fixing his eyes, oddly deepened with this, his deepest appeal, upon her.

But Imogen, as though it were a bait thrown out and powerless to allure,
slid past it.

"To gain things we must _work_ for them. It's not by merely caring,
yielding, that one wins one's rights. Mama is a very 'sweet, warm,
harmless' person; I see that as well as you do, Jack." So she put him in
his place and he could only wonder if he had any right to feel so angry.

The preparations for the new tableau were at once begun and a few days
after their last uncomfortable encounter, Jack and Imogen were again
together, in happier circumstances it seemed, for Imogen, standing in
the library while her mother adjusted her folds and draperies, could but
delight a lover's eye. Mary, also on view, in her handmaiden array,--Mary's
part was a small one in the picture of the restored Alcestis,--sat gazing
in admiration, and Jack walked about mother and daughter with suggestion
and comment.

"It's perfect, quite perfect," he declared, "that warm, soft white; and
you have done it most beautifully, Mrs. Upton. You are a wonderful
_costumière_."

"Isn't my chlamys a darling?" said Valerie happily from below, where she
knelt to turn a hem.

"Mama won't let us forget that chlamys," Imogen said, casting a look of
amusement upon her mother. "She is so deliciously vain about it." Imogen
was feeling a thrill of confidence and hope. Jack's eyes, as they rested
upon her, had shown the fondest admiration. She was in the humor, so rare
with her of late, of gaiety and light assurance. And she thirsted for words
of praise and delight from Jack.

"No wonder that she is vain," Jack returned. "It has just the look of that
heavenly garment that blows back from the Victory of Samothrace. The hair,
too, with those fillets, you did that, I suppose."

"Yes, I did. I do think it's an achievement. It has the carven look that
one wants. Imogen's hair lends itself wonderfully to those long, sweeping
lines."

But, Jack, once having expressed his admiration for Imogen, seemed
tactlessly bent on emphasizing his admiration for the mere craftswoman of
the occasion.

"Well, it's as if you had formed the image into which I'm to blow the
breath of life. I'm really uncertain, yet, as to the best attitude." Imogen
was listening to this with some gravity of gaze. "Do take that last
position we decided upon, Imogen. And do you, Mary, take the place of the
faltering old Oedipus for a moment. Look down, Imogen; yes, a strong,
brooding tenderness of look."

"Ah, she gets it wonderfully," said Valerie, still at her hem.

"Not quite deep or still enough," Jack objected. "Stand back, Mary, please,
while we work at the expression. No, that's not it yet."

"But it's lovely, so. You would have found fault with Antigone herself,
Jack," Mrs. Upton protested.

"Jack is quite right, mama, pray don't laugh at his suggestions. I
understand perfectly what he means." Imogen glanced at herself in the
mirror with a grave effort to assume the expression demanded of her. "Is
this better, Jack?"

"Yes--no;--no, you can't get at all what I mean," the young man returned,
so almost pettishly that Valerie glanced up at him with a quick flush.

Imogen's resentment, if she felt any, did not become apparent. She accepted
condemnation with dignified patience.

"I'm afraid that is the best I can do now, though I'll try. Perhaps on the
day of the actual performance it will come more deeply to me. There, mama
darling, that will do; it's quite right now. I can't put myself into
it while you sew down there. I can hardly think that I'm brooding over
my tragic father while I see your pins and needles. Now, Jack, is this
better?" With perfect composure she once more took the suggested attitude
and expression.

Mrs. Upton, her dusky flush deepened, rose, stumbling a little from her
long stooping, and, steadying herself with her hand on a table, looked at
the new effort.

"No,--it's worse. It's complacent--self-conscious," burst from Jack. "You
look as if you were thinking far more about your own brooding than about
your father. Antigone is self-forgetting; absolutely self-forgetting." So
his rising irritation found impulsive, helpless expression. In the slight
silence that followed his words he was aware of the discord that he had
crashed into an apparent harmony. He glanced almost furtively at Mrs.
Upton. Had she seen--did she guess--the anger, for her, that had broken
into these peevish words? She met his eyes with her penetrating depth of
gaze, and Imogen, turning to them, saw the interchange; saw Jack abashed
and humble, not before her own forbearance but before her mother's wonder
and severity.

Resentment had been in her, keen and sharp, from his first criticism; nay,
from his first ignoring of her claim to praise. It rose now to a flood of
righteous indignation. Sweeping round upon them in her white draperies,
casting aside--as in a flash she saw it--petty subterfuge and petty fear,
coldly, firmly, she questioned him:

"I must ask you whether this is mere ill-temper, Jack, or whether you
intentionally wish to wound me. Pray let me have the truth."

Speechless, confused, Jack gazed at her.

She went on, gaining, as she spoke, her usual relentless fluency.

"If you would rather that some one else did the Antigone, pray say so
frankly. It will be a relief to me to give up my part. I am very tired.
I have a great deal to do. You know why I took up the added burden. My
motives make me quite indifferent to petty, personal considerations.
All that, from the first, I have had in mind, was to help, to the best
of my poor ability. Whom would you rather have? Rose?--Mary?--Clara
Bartlett?--Why not mama? I will gladly help any one of them with all that I
have learnt from you as to dress and pose. But I cannot, myself, go on with
the part if such malignant dissatisfaction is to be wreaked upon me."

Jack felt his head rise at last from the submerging flood.

"But, Imogen, indeed,--I do beg your pardon. It was odious of me to speak
so. No one can do the part but you."

"Why say that, Jack, when you have just told me that I do it worse and
worse?"

"It was only a momentary impression. Really, I'm ashamed of myself."

"But it's your impression that is the standard in those tableaux. How can I
do the part if I contradict your conception?"

"You can't. I was in a bad temper."

"And why, may I ask, were you in a bad temper?"

The gaze from her serene yet awful brows was bent upon him, but under it,
in a sudden reaction from its very serenity, its very awfulness, a firm
determination rose in him to meet it. Turning very red but eyeing Imogen
very straight: "I thought you inconsiderate, ungrateful, to your mother, as
you often are," he said.

For a long moment Imogen was silent, glancing presently at Mary--scarlet
with dismay, her hastily adjusted eye-glasses in odd contrast to her
classic draperies--and then turning her eyes upon her mother who, still
standing near the table, was frowning and looking down.

"Well, mama dear," she asked, "what have you to say to this piece of
information? Have I, all unconsciously, been unkind? Have I been
ungrateful? Do you share Jack's sense of injury?"

Mrs. Upton looked up as though from painful and puzzling reflection.
"My dear Imogen," she said, "I think that you and Jack are rather
self-righteous young people, far too prone to discussing yourselves. I
think that you were a little inconsiderate; but Jack has no call to take up
my defense or to express any opinion as to our relations. Of course you
will do the Antigone, and of course, when he recovers his temper,--and I
believe he has already,--he will be very glad that you should. And now
let's have no more of this foolish affair."

None of them had ever heard her make such a measured, and, as it were,
such a considered speech before, and the unexpectedness of it so wrought
upon them that it reduced not only Jack but even the voluble Antigone to
silence. But in Jack's silence was an odd satisfaction, even an elation.
He didn't mind his own humiliation--that of an officious little boy put in
a corner--one bit; for there in the corner opposite was Imogen, actually
Imogen, and the sight of it gave him a shameful pleasure.

Meanwhile Mrs. Upton calmly resumed her work at the hem, finished it,
turned her daughter about and pronounced it all quite right.

"Now get into warmer clothes and come down to tea, which will be here
directly," she said.

Imogen, by now, was recovered from the torpor of her astonishment.

"Mary, will you come with me, I'll want your help." And then, as Mary, whom
alone she could count as an ally, joined her, she paused before departure,
gathering her chlamys about her. "If I am silent, mama, pray don't imagine
that it is you who have silenced me," she said. "I certainly could not
think of defending myself to you. My character, with all its many faults,
speaks for itself with those who understand me and what I aim at. All I ask
of you, mama, is not to imagine, for a moment, that you are one of those."

So Antigone, white, smiling, wrathful, swept away, Mary behind her,
round-eyed and aghast, and Valerie was left confronting the overwhelmed
Jack.

He could find not one word to say, and for some moments Valerie, too, stood
silent, slipping her needle back and forth in her fingers and looking hard
at the carpet.

"It's all my fault!" Jack burst out suddenly. "Blundering, silly fool that
I am! Do say that you forgive me."

She did not look at him, but, still slipping her needle with the minute,
monotonous gesture back and forth, she nodded.

"But say it," Jack protested. "Scold me as much as you please. It's all
true; I'm a prig, I know. But say that you forgive me."

A smile quivered on her cheek, and putting out her hand she answered:
"There's nothing to forgive, Jack. I lost my temper, too. And it's all mere
nonsense."

He seized her hand, and then, only then, realized from something in the
quiver of the smile, something muffled in the lightness of her voice, that
she was crying.

"Oh!" broke from him; "oh! what brutes we are!"

She had drawn her hand from his in a moment, had turned from him while she
swiftly put her handkerchief to her eyes, and after the passage of the
scudding rain-cloud she confronted him clearly once more.

"Why, it's all my fault,--don't you know,--from the beginning," she said.

He understood her perfectly. She had never been so near him.

"You _know_ that's not true," he said. And then, at last, his eyes, widely
upon her, told her on which side his sympathies were enlisted in the
long-drawn contest between,--not between poor Imogen and herself, that was
a mere result--but between herself and her husband.

And that she understood his understanding became at once apparent to him.
He had never seen her blush as she blushed then, and when the deep glow had
passed she became very white and looked very weary, almost old.

"No, I don't know it, Jack," she said. "And you, certainly, do not. And
now, dear Jack, don't let us speak of this any more. Will you help me to
clear this table for the tea-things."

       *       *       *       *       *

So this, for Imogen, was the result of her loving impulse during the frosty
walk down Fifth Avenue. All her sweet, wordless appeals had been in vain.
Jack had admired her as he might have admired a marionette; her beauty had
meant less to him than her mother's dressmaking; and as she sat alone in
her room on that afternoon, having gently and firmly sent Mary down to tea
with the ominous message that she cared for none, she saw that the shadow
between her and Jack loomed close upon them now, the shadow that would blot
out all their future, as a future together. And Imogen was frightened,
badly frightened, at the prospect of that empty future.

Her fragrant branch of life that had bloomed so fully and freshly in her
hand, a scepter and a fairy wand of beneficence, had withered to a thorny
scourge for her own shoulders. She looked about her, before her. She
realized with a new, a cutting keenness, that Jack was very rich and she
very poor. The chill of poverty had hardly reached her as yet, the warm
certainty of its cessation had wrapped her round too closely; but it
reached her now, and the thought of that poverty, unrelieved, perhaps, for
all her life, the thought of the comparative obscurity to which it would
consign her, filled her with a real panic; and, as before, the worst part
of the panic was that she should feel it, she, the scorner of material
things. Suppose, just suppose, that no one else came. Everything grew gray
at the thought. Charities, friends, admiration, these were poor substitutes
for the happy power and pride that as a rich man's adored wife would have
been hers. And the fact that had transformed her blossoming branch into the
thorny scourge was that Jack's adored wife she would never be. His humbled,
his submissive, his chastened and penitent wife,--yes, on those terms; yes,
she could see it, the future, like a sunny garden which one could only
reach by squeezing oneself through some painfully narrow aperture. The
fountains, the flowers, the lawns were still hers--if she would stoop and
crawl; and for Imogen the mere imagining of herself in such a posture
brought a hot blush to her forehead. Not only would she have scorned such
means of reaching the life of ample ease and rich benevolence, but they
were impossible to her nature. A garden that one must crouch to enter was
a prison. Better, far better, her barren, dusty, lonely life than such
humiliation; such apostasy.

She faced it all often, the future, the panic, during the last days of
preparation for the tableaux, days during which, with a still magnanimity,
she fulfilled the tasks that she had undertaken. She would not throw up her
part because her mother and Jack had so cruelly injured her; it was now for
her father and for the crippled children alone that she did it.

Sitting in her bedroom with its many books and photographs, the big framed
one of her father over her bed, she promised him, her eyes on his, that
she would have strength to face it all, for all her life if necessary. "It
was too easy, I see that now," she whispered to him. "I had made no real
sacrifices for _our_ thing. The drop of black blood had never yet been
crushed out of my heart,--for when you died, it was submission that was
asked of me, not sacrifice. It was easy, dear, to give myself to the work
we believed in--to be tired, and strong, and glad for it--to live out
bravely into the world--when you were beside me and when all the means of
work were in my hand. But now I must relinquish something that I could
only keep by being false to myself--to you--to the right. And I must go
uphill--'yes, uphill to the very end'--accepting poverty, loneliness, the
great need of love, unanswered. But I won't falter or forget, darling
father. As long as I live I will fight our fight. Even if the way is
through great darkness, I carry the light in my heart."

The noble pathos of such soliloquies brought her to tears, but the tears,
she felt, were strengthening and purifying. After drying them, after
reading some of the deeply marked passages in the poets that he and
she,--and, oh, alas! alas! she and Jack, lost Jack--had so often read
together, she would go down-stairs, descend into the dusty, thorny arena
again, feeling herself uplifted, feeling a halo of sorrowful benignity
about her head. And this feeling was so assured that those who saw her at
these moments were forced, to some extent, to share it.

Toward her mother, toward Jack, she showed a gentle, a distant courtesy;
to Mary a heartbreaking sweetness. Mary, perhaps, needed to have pettier
impressions effaced, and certain memories could but fade before Imogen's
august head and unfaltering eyes.

If she had been wrong in that strange little scene of the Antigone, Mary
was convinced that her intention had been high. Jack had hurt her too much;
that was it; and, besides, how could she know what had gone on behind
the scenes, passages between mother and daughter that had made Imogen's
attitude inevitable. So Mary argued with herself, sadly troubled. "Oh,
Imogen, please tell me," she burst forth one day, the day before the
tableaux, when she was sitting with Imogen in the latter's room; "what is
it that makes you so sad? Why are you so displeased with Jack? You haven't
given him up, Imogen!"

Imogen passed her hand softly over Mary's hair, recalling, as she did so,
that the gesture was a favorite one with her father.

"Won't you, can't you tell me?" Mary pleaded.

"It is so difficult, dear. Given him up? No, I never do that with people I
have cared for; but he is no longer the Jack I cared for. He is changed,
Mary."

"He adores you as much as ever,--of course I've always known how he adored
you; it made me so happy, loving you both as I do; and he still adores you
I'm sure. He is always watching you. He changes color when you come into
the room."

"He, too, knows and feels what ominous destinies are hanging over us,
Mary." The deeply marked passages had been in Maeterlinck that day. "We are
parted, perhaps forever, because he sees at last that I will not stoop.
When one has grown up, all one's life, straight, facing the sunrise, one
cannot bend and look down."

"_You_ stoop! Why it's that that he would never let you do!"

"No? You think that, after the other day? _He_ has stooped, Mary, to other
levels. He breathes a different air from mine now. I cannot follow him into
his new world."

"You mean?--you mean?--" Mary faltered.

Imogen's clear eyes told her what she meant; it did not need the slow
acquiescence of her head nor the articulated, "Yes, I mean mama.--Poor
mama. A little person can make great sorrows, Mary."

But now Mary's good, limpid eyes, unfaltering and candid as a child's,
dwelt on her with a new hope. "But, Imogen, it's just that: _is_ she so
little? She isn't like you, of course. She can't lift and sustain, as you
can. She doesn't stand for great things, as you do and as your father did.
But I seem to feel more and more how much she could be to you.--It only
needs-more _understanding_; and, if that's all, I really believe, Imogen
darling, that you and Jack will be all right again. Perhaps," Mary went
on with a terrible unconsciousness, "perhaps he has come to understand,
already, better than you do,--I thought that, really, the other day,--and
it's that that makes the sense of division. You are at different places of
understanding. And he hasn't to remember, and get over, all the mistakes,
the faults in her past; and perhaps it's because of that that he sees the
present reality more clearly than you do. Jack is such a wonderful person
for seeing the _real_ self of people."

Imogen's steady gaze, during this speech, continued to rest unwaveringly
upon her; Mary felt no warning in it and, when she had done, waited eagerly
for some echo to her faith.

But when Imogen spoke, it was in a voice that revealed to her her profound
miscalculation.

"_You_ do not understand, Mary. _You_ see nothing. Her present self is her
past self, unchanged, unashamed, unatoned for. It is her mistakes, her
faults, that Jack now stands for. It is her mistakes and faults that _I_
must stand for, if I am to be beside him again. That would be the stooping
that I meant. I fear that not only Jack but you are blinded, Mary. I fear
that it is not only Jack but you that she is taking from me." Her voice was
calm, but the steely edge of an accusation was in it.

Mary sat aghast. "Taking me from you! Oh, Imogen, you don't mean that you
won't care for me if I get fond of her!"

The crudely simple interpretation brought the blood to Imogen's cheeks. "I
mean that you can hardly be fond of us both. It is not _I_ who will cease
to care." Under the accusation was now an added note of pain and of appeal.
All Mary's faiths rallied to that appeal.

"Imogen!" she said, timidly, like the wrong-doer she felt herself to
be, taking the other's hand; "dear, brave, wonderful Imogen,--how _can_
you--how _can_ you say it! Why there is hardly any one in the world who has
counted to me as you have. Why, your mother is like a sweet child beside
you! She hasn't faiths; she hasn't that healing, strengthening thing that
I've always so felt in you. She could never _mean_ what you do. Oh, Imogen!
you won't think such dreadful things, will you? You do forgive me if I have
blundered and hurt you?"

Imogen drew in the fragrant incense with long breaths; it revived her,
filled her veins with new courage, new hope. The two girls kissed solemnly.
They were going out together and they presently went down-stairs hand in
hand. But as an after-flavor there lingered for Imogen, like a faint, flat
bitterness after the incense, a suspicion that Mary, in wafting her censer
with such energy, had been seeking to fill her own nostrils, also, with the
sacred old aroma, to find, as well as give, the intoxication of faith.



XIV


"Sir Basil!" Valeria exclaimed.

She rose from the tea-table, where she and Jack and Mrs. Wake were sitting,
to meet the unexpected new-comer.

A gladness that Jack had never seen in her seemed to inundate her face,
her figure, her outstretched hands; she looked young, she looked almost
childlike, as she smiled at her friend over their clasp, and Jack saw, by
the light of that transfiguration, how gray these last months must have
been to her, how strangely bereft of response and admiration, how without
savor or sweetness. He saw, and with the insight came a sharp stir of
bitterness against the new-comer, who threw them all like this into a dull
background, and, at the same time, a real echo of her gladness, that she
should have it.

He actually, in the sharp, swift twist of feeling, hardly remembered
Imogen's forecasts and warnings, hardly remembered that Mrs. Upton's
gladness and Sir Basil's beaming gaze put Imogen quite dreadfully in the
right. He did not think of Imogen at all, nor of the desecration of the
house of mourning by this gladness, so absorbed was he in watching it, in
sharing it, and in being hurt by it.

"Mrs. Wake, of course, is an old friend," Valerie said, leading Sir Basil
up to the tea-table; "and here is a new one--Jack Pennington, whom you must
quite know already, I've written so much about him. Sit down here. Tell me
all about everything. Why this sudden appearance? Why no hint of it? Is it
meant as a surprise for us?"

"Well, Frances and Tom were coming over, you knew that--"

"Of course. I wrote Frances a steamer letter the day before yesterday. You
got in this morning with them then? They said not a word of your coming
when I last heard from them."

"I only decided to join them at the last minute. I thought that it would be
good fun to drop upon you like this, so I didn't write. It _is_ good to see
you again." Sir Basil, while his beam seemed to include the room and its
inmates, included them unseeingly; he had eyes, it was evident, only for
her. He went on to give her messages from the Pakenhams, in New York but
for a week on their way to Canada and eager to see her at once. They would
have come with him had they not been rather knocked up by the early rise on
the steamer and by the long wait at the custom-house.

"You must all come with me to-morrow to our tableaux," said Valerie.
"Imogen is in them. She is out this afternoon, so you will see her for the
first time at her loveliest. She is to be Antigone."

"Oh, so I sha'n't see her till to-morrow. I've always been a bit afraid of
Miss Upton, you know," said Sir Basil, with a smile at Jack.

"Well, the first impression will be a reassuring one," said Valerie.
"Antigone is the least alarming of heroines."

"I don't know about that," Sir Basil objected, folding a slice of bread and
butter, "A bit gruesome, don't you think?"

"Gruesome?"

"She stuck so to her own ideas, didn't she? Awfully rough on the poor
fellow who wanted to marry her, insisting like that on burying her
brothers."

Valerie laughed. "Well, but that sense of duty is hardly gruesome; it would
have been horridly gruesome to have left her brothers unburied."

"You'll worst me in an argument, of course," Sir Basil replied, looking
fondly at her; "but I maintain that she's a dreary young lady. Of course I
don't mean to say that she wasn't an exceedingly good girl, and all that
sort of thing, but a bit of a prig, you must allow."

Jack listened to the bantering colloquy. This man, so hard, yet so kindly,
so innocent, yet so mature, was making him feel by every tone, gesture,
glance, oddly boyish and unformed. He was quite sure that he himself was a
great deal cleverer, a great deal more conscious, than Sir Basil; but these
advantages somehow assumed the aspect of schoolboy badges of good conduct
beside a grown-up standard. And, as he listened, he began to understand far
more deeply all sorts of things about Valerie; to see what vacancies she
had had to put up with, to see what fullness she must have missed. And he
began to understand what Imogen, Cassandra-like, had declared, that the
unseasonable fragrance of devotions hovered about her widowed mother; to
remember the ominous "Wait and see."

It showed how far he had traveled when he could recall these words with
impatience: could answer them with: "Well, what of it? Doesn't she deserve
some compensation?"--could quietly place Sir Basil as a no longer hopeless
adorer and feel a thrill of satisfaction, in the realization. Yes, sitting
here here in the house of mourning he could think these things.

But if he was so wide, so tolerant, the very expansion of his sympathies
brought them a finer sensitiveness. Only a tendril-like fineness could
penetrate the complexities of that deeper vision. He began to think of
Imogen, and with a new pity, a new tenderness. How she would be hurt,
and how, more than all, she would be hurt by seeing that he, while
understanding, while sympathizing, should, helplessly, inevitably, be glad
that Sir Basil had come. Poor Imogen,--and poor himself; for where did he
stand among all these shiftings of the scene? He, too, knew the drifting
loneliness and desolation, and though his heart ached for the old nearness
he could not put out his hand to her nor take a step toward her. In
himself, in her, was the change, or the mere fate, that held them parted.
The wrench had come slowly upon them, but, while he ached with the pain
of it, he could already look upon it as accomplished. Only one question
remained to be asked:--Would nothing, no change, no fate, draw them again
together?

For all answer a deep, settled sadness descended upon him.

Sir Basil took himself off before Mrs. Wake seemed to think it tactful to
depart, and since, soon after, she too went, Jack and Valerie were left
alone together.

She turned her bright, soft eyes upon the young man and he recognized in
them the unseeing quality that he had found in Sir Basil's--that happy
preoccupation with inner gladness. She made him think of the bird alighted
to sing on the swaying blade; and she made him think of a fountain released
from winter and springing through sunlight in a murmur and sparkle of
ecstasy. She was young, very young; he almost felt her as young in her
gladness as he in his loneliness and pain. Smiling a trifle nervously, he
said that he was glad, at last, to see something of her old life. "Of your
real life," he added.

"My real life?" she repeated, and her look became more aware of him.

"Yes. Of course, in a sense, all this is something outlived, cast aside,
for you. You've only taken it up for a bit while you felt that it had a
claim upon you; but, once you have settled things, you would,--you would
leave us, of course," said Jack, still smiling.

She was thinking of him now, no longer of herself and of Sir Basil, and
perhaps, as she looked at him, at the thin brown face, the light, deep
eyes, she guessed at a stir of tears under the smile. It was then as if the
fountain sank from its own happy solitude and became a running brook of
sweetness, sad, yet merry. She didn't contradict him. She was sorry that
she couldn't, yet glad that his statement should be so obviously true.

"You mean that I'll go back to my little Surrey cottage, when I settle
things?" she said. "Perhaps, yes. And you will miss me? I will miss you
too, dear Jack. But we will often see each other. And then it may take a
long time to settle all you young people."

Her confidence so startled him, so touched him with pity for its blindness,
that, swiftly, he took refuge in ambiguity.

"Oh, you'll settle us!" he said, wondering in what that settling would
consist, wondering what would happen if Imogen, definitely casting him off,
to put the final settling in that form, were left on her mother's hands.
She would have to settle Imogen in America and what, in the meanwhile,
would become of her "real" life?

But from the mother's confidence, her radiance, that accepted his speech
in its happiest meaning, he guessed that she didn't foresee such a
contingency; he even guessed that, were she brought face to face with it,
she wouldn't accept its unsettling of her own joy as final. The fountain
was too strong to heed such obstacles. It would find its way to the
sunlight. Imogen, in time, would have to accept a step-father.



XV


Jack did not witness the revelation to Imogen of the ominous arrival, but
from her demeanor at lunch next day he could guess at how it had impressed
her. He felt in her an intense, a guarded, excitement, and knew that the
news had fallen upon her with a tingling concussion. The sound of the
thunder-bolt must reverberate all the louder in Imogen's ears from her
consciousness that to Mary's it was soundless, Mary, who had been the
only spectator of its falling. Her mother, too, was unconscious of such
reverberations, so that it must seem to her a ghost-like subjective
warning, putting into audible form all her old hauntings.

That she at once sought in him evidences of the same experience, Jack
felt, and all through the early lunch, where they assembled prior to his
departure with the two girls for the theater, he avoided meeting Imogen's
eyes. He was too sure that she felt their mutual knowledge as a bond over
the recent chasm. The knowledge in his own eyes was far too deep for him to
allow her to wade into it; she would simply drown. He was rather ashamed of
himself, but he resolutely feigned a cheerful unconsciousness.

"You are going with your friends, later?" he asked Valerie, who, he was
quite sure, also feigning something, said that since Imogen and Mary
dressed each other so well, and since he would be there to see that every
detail was right, she, with the Pakenhams and Sir Basil, would get her
impression from the stalls. Afterward, they would all meet here for tea.

"It was a surprise, you know, their coming," Imogen put in suddenly, from
her end of the table, fixing strangely sparkling eyes upon Jack.

"No," said her mother, in tones of leisurely correction, "I expected the
Pakenhams, as I told you."

"Oh, yes; it was only Sir Basil's surprise. You didn't expect him. Does he
like playing surprises on people, mama?"

"I don't know that he does."

"He only plays them on you."

"I knew that he was coming, at some time."

"Ah, but you didn't tell me that; it was, in the main, _my_ surprise, then;
but not so soon, I suppose."

"So soon? So soon for what?"

Imogen, at this, allowed her badly adjusted mask of lightness to fall and a
sudden solemnity overspread her features.

"Don't you feel it rather soon for friends to play pranks, mama?"

The words seemed to erect a catafalque before their eyes, but, facing the
nodding blackness with a calm in which Jack detected the glint of steel,
Valerie answered: "I am not aware that they have been playing pranks."

For all the way to the theater Imogen again assumed the mask, talking
exclusively to Mary. She talked of these friends of her mother's, of Sir
Basil, Mr. and Mrs. Pakenham, what she had heard of them; holding up, as if
for poor, frightened Mary's delectation, an impartial gaily sketched little
portrait of their oddities. It was as if she felt it her duty to atone
to Mary by her lightness and gaiety for the gloom that had overspread the
lunch; as if she wished to assure Mary that she wouldn't allow her to
suffer for other people's ill-temper,--Mrs. Upton had certainly been very
silent for the rest of that uncomfortable meal,--as if it were for Mary's
sake that she were assuming the mask, behind which, as Jack must know, she
was in torture.

"I'm glad you're to see them, Mary darling; they will amuse you. From your
standpoint of reality, the standpoint of Puritan civilization--the deepest
civilization the world has yet produced; the civilization that judges by
the soul--you will be able to judge and place them as few of our people
are, as yet, developed enough to do. They are of that funny English type,
Mary, the leisured; their business in life that of pleasure seeking; their
social service consisting in benevolent domination over the servile classes
beneath them. Oh, they have their political business, too; we mustn't be
unfair; though that consists, in the main, for people of their type, in
maintaining their own place as donors and in keeping other people in the
place of recipients. In their own eyes, I'm quite sure, they are useful,
as upholding the structure of English civilization. You'll find them
absolutely simple, absolutely self-assured, absolutely indifferent, quite
charming,--there's no reason why they shouldn't be; but their good manners
are for themselves, not for you,--one must never forget that with the
English. Do study them, Mary. We need to keep the fact of them clearly
before us, for what they represent is a menace to us and to what we mean.
I sometimes think that the future of the world depends upon which ideal
is to win, ours or the English. We must arm ourselves with complete
comprehension. Already they have infected the cruder types among us."

These were all sentiments that in the past, Mary felt sure, Jack must have
acquiesced in and approved of, and yet she felt surer that Imogen's manner
of enunciating them was making Jack very angry. She herself did not find
them as inspiring as she might have expected, and looking very much
frightened and flurried she murmured that as she was to go back to Boston
next day she would not have much opportunity for all this observation.
"Besides--I don't believe that I'm so--so wise--so civilized, you know, as
to be able to see it all."

"Oh, Imogen will tell you what to see!" said Jack.

"It's very kind of her, I'm sure," poor Mary faltered. She could have burst
into tears. These two!--these beloved two!

Meanwhile, at a little later hour, Valerie and Mrs. Wake made their way to
the theater, there to meet the group of friends from whom they had parted
in England six months before.

The Pakenhams, full of question and comment, were intelligently amassing
well-assorted impressions of the country that was new to them. Sir Basil,
though cheerfully pleased with all to which his attention was drawn, showed
no particular interest in his surroundings. His concentration was entirely
for his regained friend.

After her welcoming radiance of the day before, Valerie looked pale and
weary, and when, with solicitude, he asked her whether she were not tired,
she confessed to having slept badly.

"She's changed, you know," Sir Basil said to Mrs. Pakenham, when they were
settled in their seats, and Valerie, beside him, was engaged in pointing
out people to Tom Pakenham. "It's been frightfully hard on her, all this,
I'm sure."

"She's as charming as ever," said Mrs. Pakenham.

"Oh, well, that could never change. But what a shame that she should have
had, all along, such a lot to go through." Sir Basil, as a matter of
course, had the deepest antipathy for the late Mr. Upton.

The tableaux struck at once the note of success. Saved by Jack's skill from
any hint of waxwork or pantomime, their subtle color and tranquil light
made each picture a vision of past time, an evocation of Hellenic beauty
and dignity.

Cassandra in her car--her face (oh, artful Jack!) turned away,--awful
before the door of Agamemnon; Iphigenia, sleeping, on her way to the
sacrifice; Helen, before her husband and Hecuba; Alcestis, returning from
the grave, and Deianira with the robe. The old world of beauty and sorrow,
austere and lovely in its doom, passed before modern eyes against its
background of sky, grove, and palace steps.

"And now," said Valerie, when the lights sprang out for the interval, "now
for your introduction to Imogen. They have made her the climax, you see."

"He did, you mean. The young man."

"Yes, Jack arranged it all."

"He's the one you wrote of, of course, who admires her so tremendously."

"He is the one."

"In fact he'll carry her off from you some day, soon, eh?" Sir Basil
ventured with satisfaction in his own assurance. He, too, felt that Imogen
must be "settled."

"I suppose so," said Valerie. "I couldn't trust her to any one more
happily. He understands her and cares for her absolutely."

Sir Basil at this ventured a little further, voicing both satisfaction and
anxiety with: "So, then, you'll come back--to--to Surrey."

"Yes, then, I think, I can come back to Surrey," Valerie replied.

The heart of her feeling had always remained for him a mystery, and her
acquiescence now might mean a great deal, everything, in fact, or it might
mean only her gliding composure before a situation that she had power to
form as she would. He could observe that her color rose. He knew that she
blushed easily. He knew, too, that his own feeling was not hidden from her
and that the blush might be for her recognition only; yet he was occupied
with the most hopeful interpretations when the curtain rose. A moment after
its rising Valerie heard him softly ejaculate, "I say!" She could have
echoed the helplessly rudimentary, phrase. She, too, gazed, in a stupor
of delight; a primitive emotion in it. The white creature standing there
before them, with her forward poise, her downcast yet upgazing face, was
her child. Valerie, since her return to her home, had given little time
to analysis of her own feeling, the stress of her situation had been too
intense for leisurely self-observation. But in the upwelling of a strange,
a selfless, joy she knew, now, how often she had feared that all the joy of
maternity was dead in her; killed, killed by Imogen.

The joy now was a passing ray. The happy confusion of admiration, wonder,
and pride was blotted out by the falling gloom of reality. It was her
child who stood there, but the bond between them seemed, but for the ache
of rejected maternity at her heart, a pictorial one merely. Tears of
bitterness involuntarily filled her eyes as she looked, and Imogen's form
seemed to waver in a dim, an alien atmosphere.

When the curtain fell on the Antigone who kept her pose without a tremor,
the uproar of applause was so great that it had to rise, not only twice,
but three times. At the last, a faint wavering shook slightly the
Antigone's sculptured stillness and poor old Oedipus rocked obviously upon
his feet.

"What a shame to make her keep it up for so long!" murmured Sir Basil, his
face suffused with sympathy. The symptom of human weakness was a final
touch to the enchantment.

"Well, it makes one selfish, such loveliness!" said Mrs. Pakenham, flushed
with her clapping. "Valerie, dear, she is quite too lovely!"

"Extraordinarily Greek, the whole thing," said Tom Pakenham; "the
comparative insignificance of facial expression and the immense
significance of attitude and outline."

"But the face!" Sir Basil turned an unseeing eye upon him, still wrapped,
it was evident, in the vision that, at last, had disappeared. "The figure
is perfect; but the face,--I never saw anything so heavenly."

Indeed, in its slightly downcast pose, the trivial lines of Imogen's nose
and chin had been lost; the up-gazing eyes, the sweep of brow and hair, had
dominated and transfigured her somewhat tamely perfect countenance.

"Do you know, I'm more afraid of her than ever," said Sir Basil to Valerie
on their way home to tea, in the cab. "I wasn't really afraid before. I
could have borne up very well; but now--it's like knowing that one is to
have tea with a seraph."

Jack, Imogen, and Mary were not yet arrived when they reached the house;
but by the time the tea was on the table and Valerie in her place behind
the urn, they heard the cab drive up and the feet of the young people on
the stairs.

Jack entered alone, saying that Mary and Imogen were gone to take off their
wraps. Yes, he assured Valerie, they had promised to keep on their Grecian
robes for tea.

Valerie introduced him to the Pakenhams and led the congratulations on his
triumph. "For it really is yours, Jack, as much as if you had painted the
whole series of pictures."

Jack, looking shy, turned from one to the other as they seconded her
enthusiasm,--Mrs. Pakenham, with her elaborately formal head and china-blue
eyes; her husband, robust and heavy; Sir Basil, still with his benignant,
unseeing quality. Among them all, in spite of Mrs. Wake's keen, familiar
visage, in spite of Valerie's soft glow, he felt himself a stranger. He
even felt, with a little stab of ill-temper, that there had been truth
in Imogen's diagnosis. They were kindly, but they were tremendously
indifferent. They didn't at all expect you to be interested in them; but
that hardly atoned for the fact that they weren't interested in you. For
Jack, life was made up of vigilant, unceasing interest, in himself and in
everybody else.

"Ah, were they all taken from your pictures?" Sir Basil asked him,
strolling up to the mantelpiece to examine a photograph of Imogen that
stood there.

Jack explained that he could claim no such gallery of achievement. He had
made a few sketches for each tableau; his work had been, in the main, that
of stage-manager.

"Oh, I see," said Sir Basil, not at all abashed by his blunder. "Nicer than
lay figures to work with, eh? all those pretty young women."

"I don't use lay figures, at any time. I'm a landscape painter," Jack
explained, somewhat stiffly. He surmised that had he been introduced as
Velasquez Sir Basil would have been quite as unmoved, just as he would have
been quite as genially inclined had he been introduced as a scene-painter.

"I used to think I'd go in for something of that sort in my young days,"
said Sir Basil, holding Imogen's photograph; "and I dabbled a bit in
water-color for a time. Do you remember that little sketch of the Hall,
done from the beech avenue, Mrs. Upton? Not so bad, was it?"

"Not at all bad," said Valerie; "but we can't use such negatives for Jack's
work. It's very seriously good, you know. It's anything but dabbling."

"Oh, yes; I know that you are a real artist," Sir Basil smiled at Jack from
the photograph. "This doesn't do her justice, does it?"

"Imogen? No; it's a frightful thing," said Jack over-emphatically.

Mrs. Pakenham asked to see it and pronounced that, for her part, she
thought it excellent.

"You ought to paint her portrait," Sir Basil continued, looking at Jack,
who had, once more, to explain that landscape was his only subject. He
guessed from the something at once benign and faintly quizzical in Sir
Basil's regard, that to all these people he was significant, in the main,
as Imogen's lover, and the intuition vexed him still further.

Imogen's entrance, startling in its splendid incongruity, put an end to his
self-consciousness and absorbed him in contemplation.

Imogen revealed herself newly, even to him, to-day. It wasn't the old
Imogen of stateliness, graciousness, placidity, nor the later one of gloom
and anger. This Imogen, lovely, with her flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes,
was deeply excited, deeply self-forgetful. She, too, was absorbed in her
intense curiosity, her feverish watchfulness.

She said nothing while her mother introduced her to the new-comers, who all
looked a little taken aback, as though the resuscitated Grecian heroine
were indeed among them, and stood silently alert near the tea-table,
handing the cups of tea, the cakes and scones, for Jack and Sir Basil
to pass round. Her arms were bare and her slender bare feet, laced with
gold-clasped fastenings, showed on her white sandals. Jack saw that Sir
Basil's eyes were fixed on her with an expression of wonder.

He asked her, as he took the last cup from her, if she were not cold, and,
gentle, though unsmiling, Imogen replied, "Oh, no!" glancing at the roaring
wood fire, that illuminated her whiteness as if with a sacrificial glow.

"Do sit down and have your tea, Imogen; you must be very tired," her mother
said, with something of the chill that the scene at the lunch-table had
diffused still in her voice.

"Not very, thanks, mama dear," said Imogen; and, more incongruous in
loveliness than before, she sat down in a high-backed chair at some little
distance from the tea-table. Sir Basil, as if with a sort of helplessness,
remained beside her.

"Yes, it was a great success, wasn't it?" Jack heard her replying
presently, while she drank the tea with which Sir Basil had eagerly
supplied her. "I'm so glad."

"You liked doing it, didn't you? You couldn't have done it, like
that--looked like that, if you hadn't cared a lot about it," Sir Basil
pursued.

Imogen smiled a little and said that she didn't know that she had liked
doing her part particularly,--it was of her crippled children that she was
thinking. "We'll be able to get the Home now," she said.

"It was for cripple children?"

"Didn't you know? I should have thought mama would have told you. Yes, it
all meant that, only that, to me. We gave the tableaux to get enough money
to buy a country home for them."

"You go in a lot for good works, I know," said Sir Basil, and Imogen,
smiling again, with the lightness rooted in excitement, answered: "They go
in for me, rather. All the appeals of suffering seem to come to one and
seize one, don't they? One never needs to seek causes."

Jack watched them talk, Imogen, the daughter of the dead, rejected husband,
and Sir Basil, her mother's suitor.

Mary had come in now, late from changing her dress, which at the last
moment she had felt too shy to appear in. She was talking to Mrs. Wake and
the Pakenhams.

Standing, a somewhat brooding onlooker, becoming conscious, indeed, of the
sense, stronger than ever, of loneliness and bereavement, he heard Mrs.
Upton near him say, "Sit down here, Jack."

She showed him a chair beside her, in the corner, between her tea-table,
the window, and the fire. She, too, was for the moment isolated; she, too,
no doubt, had been watching; and now she talked to him, not at all as if
she had felt that he were lonely and were making it up to him, but, once
more, like the child happily gathering and holding out nosegays to another
child.

A controlled excitement was in her, too; and he felt still that slight
strain of the lunch-table, as if Imogen's catafalque had marred some
too-trustful assurance; but a growing warmth was diffused through it, and,
as her eyes turned once or twice on Imogen and Sir Basil, he saw the cause.

The possibility that her daughter might make friends with her suitor, the
solvent, soothing possibility that, if realized, would so smooth her path,
had come to her. And in their quiet fire-lit corner, shut the closer into
their isolation by the talk that made only a confused murmur about them, he
felt a new frankness in her, as though the hope of the hour effaced ominous
memories and melted her reserves and discretions, making it wholly natural
to draw near him in the implied avowal of shared outlooks.

"I believe that Imogen and Sir Basil are going to get on together," she
said; "I believe that she likes him already. I so want them to be friends.
He is such a friend of mine."

"They look friendly," said Jack; "I think I can always tell when Imogen is
going to like people." He did not add that, with his new insight about
Imogen, he had observed that it was people over whom she had power that
Imogen liked. And already he seemed to see that Imogen would have some sort
of power over Sir Basil.

"And I can always tell when he is going to like people. He thinks her
wonderful," said Valerie. She exchanged her knowledge with him; it was
touching, the way in which, blind to deep change in him, she took for
granted his greater claim to the interpretation of Imogen. She added: "It
is a very propitious beginning, I think."

"How long is Sir Basil going to stay here?" Jack asked.

"All summer. He goes to Canada with the Pakenhams, and out to the West, for
a glimpse of the changes since he was here years and years ago; and then I
want him to come to Vermont, to us. You and Imogen will both get to know
him well there. Of course you are coming; Imogen told me that she asked you
long ago."

"Yes; I shall enjoy that immensely," the young man answered, with, for his
own consciousness, a touch of irrepressible gloom. He didn't look forward
to the continuation of the drama, to his own lame and merely negative part
in it, at the close quarters of a house-party among the Vermont hills.

And as if Valerie bad felt the inner doubt she added suddenly, on a
different key, "You really will enjoy it, won't you?"

He looked up at her. Her face, illuminated by the firelight, though dimmed
against the evening blue outside, was turned on him with its sudden
intentness and penetration of gaze.

"Why, of course," he almost stammered, confused by the unexpected scrutiny.

"I shall love having you, you know," she said.

"I shall love being with you," he answered, now without a single inner
reserve.

Her intentness seemed to soften, there was solicitude and a sort of
persuasiveness in it. "And you will have a much better chance of really
adjusting things there--your friendship with Imogen, I mean. The country
smoothes things out. Things get sweet and simple."

He didn't know what to say. Her mistake, if it were one, was so inevitable.

"Imogen will have taken her bearings by then," she went on. "She has had so
much to get accustomed to, to bear with, poor child; her great bereavement,
and--and a mother who, in some ways, must always be a trial to her."

"Oh, a trial!"--Jack lamely murmured.

"I recognize it, Jack. I think that you do. But when she makes up her mind
to me, and discovers that, at all events, I don't interfere with anything
that she really cares about, she will be able to take up all her old
threads again."

"I--I suppose so," Jack murmured.

He had dropped his eyes, for he knew that hers were on him. And now, in a
lowered voice, he heard her say, "Jack, I hope that you will help me with
Imogen."

"Help you? How do you mean?" startled, he looked up.

"You know. Interpret me to her now and then, when you can, with kindliness.
You understand me so much more kindly than she does."

His eyes fixed on hers, deeply flushing--"Oh, but,"--he breathed out with
almost a long sigh,--"that's what I have done, you see, ever since--"

"Ever since what?"

"Since I came to understand you so much better than she does."

There was a long pause now and, the firelight flickering low, he could
hardly see her face. But he recognized change in her voice as she said:
"You have? I don't mean, you know, taking my side in disputes."

"I know; I don't mean that, either, though, perhaps, I can't help doing it;
for," said Jack, "it's on your side that I am, you know."

The change in her voice, but controlled, kept down, she answered quickly,

"Ah, but, dear Jack, I don't want to have a side. It's that that I want her
to realize. I want her to feel that my side is hers. I want you to help me
in making her feel it."

"But she'll never feel it!" Jack breathed out again. Behind the barrier
of the tea-table, in the flickering dimness, they were speaking suddenly
with a murmuring, yet so sharp a confidence; a confidence that in broad
daylight, or in complete solitude, might have seemed impossible. All sorts
of things must steal out in that persuasive, that peopled yet solitary,
twilight.

He knew that Valerie's eyes dwelt on him with anxiety and that it was with
a faint, forced smile that she asked him: "She doesn't think that I'll ever
reach her side?"

"_I_ don't believe you ever will," said Jack. Then, for he couldn't bear
that she should misunderstand him for another moment, misunderstanding
when they had come so far was too unendurable, he went on in a hurried
undertone: "You aren't on her side, really. You can never be on her side.
You can never be like her, or see like her. And I don't want you to. It's
you who see clearly, not she. It's you who are all right."

Her long silence, after this, seemed to him like the hovering of hands upon
him; as though, in darkness, she sought by touch to recognize some strange
object put before her.

"But then,--" she, too, only breathed it out at last,--"but then,--you are
not on _her_ side."

"That's just it," said Jack. He did not look at her and she was silent once
more before his confession.


"But," she again took up the search, "that is terrible for her, if she
feels it."

"And for me, too, isn't it?" he questioned, as if he turned the surfaces of
the object beneath her fingers.

The soft, frightened hover seemed to go all over it, to recognize it
finally, and to draw back, terrified, from recognition.

"Most terrible of all for me, if I have come between you," she said.

Her pain pierced him so, that he put out his hand and took hers. Don't
think that; you mustn't think that, not for a moment. It's not that you
came between us. It's only that, because of you, I began to see things--as
I hadn't seen them. It was just,--well, just like seeing one color change
when another is put beside it. Imogen's blue, now that your gold has come,
is turned to green; that's all that has happened."

"All that has happened! Do you know what you are saying, Jack! If my gold
were gone, would the blue come back again?"

"The blue will never come back," said Jack.

He felt, as her hand tightened on his, that he would have liked to put his
head down on her knees and sob like a little boy; but when she said, "And
the green you cannot care for?" his own hand tightened as if they clutched
some secret together, some secret that neither must dare look at. "You
mustn't think that--you mustn't. And I mustn't." He said it with all the
revolt and all the strength of his will and loyalty; with all his longing,
too. "The real truth is that the green can't care for me unless I will see
it back to blue again--and as I can't do that, and as it won't accept my
present vision, there is a sort of dead-lock."

For a long moment her hand continued to grasp his, before, as if taking in
the ambiguous comfort of his final definiteness, it relaxed and she drew it
away.

"Perhaps she will care enough," she said.

"To accept my vision? To forego blue? To consent that I shall see her as
green?"

"Yes, when she has taken up all the threads."

"Perhaps she will," said Jack.



XVI


It was a few days after this, just before Jack's return to Boston--and the
parting now was to be until they met in Vermont--that he and Imogen had
another walk, another talk together.

The mid-May had become seasonably mild and, at Jack's suggestion, they had
taken the elevated cars up to Central Park for the purpose of there seeing
the wistaria in its full bloom.

They strolled in the sunlight under arbors rippling all over with the
exquisite purple, dark and pale, the thin fine leaves of a strange
olive-green, the delicate tendrils; they passed into open spaces where,
on gray rocks, it streamed like the tresses of a cascade; it climbed and
heaped itself on wayside trellises and ran nimbly, in a shower of fragile
color, up the trunks, along the branches, of the trees. Jack always
afterward associated the soft, falling purple, the soft, languorous
fragrance, the almost uncanny beauty of the wistaria, with melancholy and
presage.

Imogen, for the first time since her father's death, showed a concession to
the year's revival in a transparent band of white at her neck and wrists.
Her little hat, too, was of transparent black, its crape put aside. But,
though she and the day shared in bloom and youthfulness, Jack had never
seen her look more heavily bodeful; had never seen her eyes more fixed, her
lips more cold and stern. The excitement that he had felt in her was gone.
Her curiosity, her watchfulness, had been satisfied, and grimly rewarded.
She faced sinister facts. Jack felt himself ready to face them, too.

They had spoken little in the clattering car, and for a long time after
they reached the park and walked hither and thither among its paths,
following at random the beckoning purple of the wistaria, neither spoke
of anything but commonplaces; indicating points of view, or assenting to
appreciations. But Imogen said at last, and he knew that with the words she
led him up to those facts: "Do you remember, Jack, the day we met mama, you
and I, on the docks?"

Jack replied that he did.

"What a different day from this," said Imogen, "with its frosty glory, its
challenge, its strength."

"Very different."

"And how different our lives are," said Imogen.

He did not reply for some moments, and it was then to say gently that he
hoped they were not so different as, perhaps, they seemed.

"It is not I who have changed, Jack," said Imogen, looking before her. And
going on, as though she wished to hear no reply to this: "Do you remember
how we felt as the steamer came in? We determined that _she_ should change
nothing, that we wouldn't yield to any menace of the things we were then
united in holding dear. It's strange, isn't it, to see how subtly she has
changed everything? It's as if our frosty, sparkling landscape, all wind
and vigor and discipline, were suddenly transformed to this,--" Imogen
looked about her at the limpid day,--"to soft yielding, soft color, soft
perfume,--it's like mama, that fragrance of the wistaria,--to something
smiling, languid, alluring. This is the sort of day on which one drifts.
Our past day was a day of steering."

As much as for the meaning of her careful words, Jack felt rising in him an
anger against the sense of a readiness prepared beforehand. "You describe
it all very prettily, Imogen," he answered, mastering the anger. "But I
don't agree with you."

"You seldom do now, Jack. Perhaps it's because I've remained in my own
climate while you have been borne by the 'warm, sweet, harmless' current
into this one."

"I am not conscious of any tendency to drift, Imogen. I still steer. I
intend, very firmly, always to steer."

"To what, may I ask?"

He was silent for a moment; then said, lifting eyes in which she read
all that new steeliness of opposition, with, yet, in it, through it, the
sadness of hopeless appeal: "I believe in all our ideals--just as I used
to."

To this Imogen made no rejoinder.

"Do you like Sir Basil?" she asked presently, after, for some time, they
had turned along the windings of a long path in a heavy silence.

"I've hardly seen him." Jack's voice had a forced lightness, as though for
relief at the change of subject; but he guessed that the change was only
apparent. "He is very nice; very delightful looking."

"Yes; very delightful looking. Do you happen to remember what I said to you
about him, long ago, in the winter? About him and mama?"

"Yes"; Jack flushed; "I remember."

"I told you to wait."

"Yes; you told me to wait."

"You will own now, I hope, that I was right."

"Right in thinking that he--that they were more than friends?"

"Right in thinking that he was in love with her; that she allowed it."

"I suppose you were right."

"I was right. And it's more than that now. I have every reason to believe
that she intends to marry him."

He ignored her portentous pause and drop of the voice, walking on with
downcast eyes. "You mean, it's an accepted thing?"

"Oh, no! not yet accepted. Mama respects the black edge, you know. But I
heard Mrs. Wake and Mrs. Pakenham talking about it."

"Heard? How could you have heard?" Jack's eyes, stern with accusation, were
now upon her.

It was impossible for Imogen to lie consciously, and though she had not,
in her eagerness that he should own her right and share her reprobation,
foreseen this confrontation, she held, before it, all the dignity of full
sincerity.

"You are changed, indeed, Jack, when you can suspect me of eavesdropping! I
was asleep on the sofa in the library, worn out with work, and I woke to
hear them talking in the next room, with the door ajar. I did not realize,
for some moments, what was being said. And then they went out."

"Of course I don't suspect you; of course I don't think that you would
eavesdrop; though I do hate--hearing," Jack muttered.

"I hope you realize that I share your hatred," said Imogen. "But your
opinion of me is not, here, to the point. I only wish to put before you
what I have now to bear, Mrs. Pakenham said that she wagered that before
the year was out Sir Basil would have married mama." Imogen paused,
breathing deeply.

Jack walked on beside her, not knowing what to say. "I think so, too, and
wish her joy," would have been the truest rendering of his feeling.

He curbed it to ask cautiously, "And you mind so much?"

"Mind!" she repeated, a thunderous echo.

"You dislike it so?"

"Dislike? You use strangely inapt words."

He had another parenthetic shoot of impatience with her dreadful
articulateness; had Imogen always talked so much like the heroine of a
novel with a purpose?

"I only meant--can't you put up with it?"

"Put up with it? Can I do anything else? What power have I over her?
You don't seem to understand. I have passed beyond caring that she
makes herself petty, ridiculous; as a woman of her age must in marrying
again--the clutch of fading life at the happiness it has forfeited. Let
her clutch if she chooses; let her marry if she chooses, whom she chooses,
yes, when she chooses. But don't you see how it shatters my every hope of
her,--my every ideal of her? And don't you see how my heart is pierced by
the presence of that man in my father's house, the house that she abandoned
and cast a shadow upon? How filled with bitter shame and anguish I am when
I see him there, in that house, sacred to my grief and to my
memories--making love to my mother?"

No, really, never, never had he heard Imogen so fluent and so dramatically
telling; and never had he been so unmoved by the feeling under the fluency.
It was as if he could believe in none.

He remained silent and Imogen continued: "When she came back, I believed
that it was with an impulse of penitence; with the wish, shallow though I
knew that it must be in such a nature, to atone to me for the ruin that she
had made in his life. I was all tenderness and sympathy for her, all a
longing to help and sustain her--as you must remember. But now! It fulfils
all that I had feared and suspected in her--and more than all! She left
England, she came here, that the conventions might be observed; and,
considering them observed enough for her purpose, she receives her suitor,
eight months after my father's lonely death,-in the house where _my_ heart
breaks and bleeds for him, where _I_ mourn for him, where _I_--alone, it
seems--feel him flouted and betrayed! And she talks of her love for me!"

Jack was wondering that her coherent passion did not beat him into helpless
acquiescence; but, instead, he found himself at once replying, "You don't
see fairly. You exaggerate it all. She was unhappy with your father. For
years he made her unhappy. And now, if she can care for a man who can make
her happy, she has a right, a perfect right, to take her happiness. As for
her loving you, I don't believe that any one loves you more truly. It's
your chance, now, to show your love for her."

Imogen stood still and looked at him from the black disk of her parasol.

"I think I've suspected this of you, too, Jack," she said. "Yes, I've
suspected, in dreadful moments of revelation, how far your undermining has
gone. And you say you are not changed!"

"Would you ask your mother never to marry again?"

"I would--if she were in any way to redeem her image in my eyes. But,
granting to the full that one must make concessions to such creatures of
the senses, I would ask her, at the very least, to have waited."

"Creatures of the senses!" Jack repeated in a helpless gasp; such words, in
their austere vocabulary, were hardly credible. "Do you know what you are
saying, you arrogant, you heartless girl?"

Her face seemed to flash at him like lightning from a black cloud, and with
the lightning a reality that had lacked before to leap to her voice:

"Ah! At last--at last you are saying what you have felt for a long time!
At last I know what you think of me! So be it! I don't retract one jot or
tittle of what I say. Mama is a perfectly moral woman, if you actually
imagine some base imputation; but she lives for the pleasant, the pretty,
the easy. She doesn't love this man's soul--nor care if he has one.
Her love for him is a parody of the love that my father taught me to
understand and to hold sacred. She loves his love for her; his 'delightful'
appearance. She loves his place and name and all the power and leisure of
the life he can give her. She loves the world--in him; and in that I mean
and repeat that she is a creature of the senses. And if, for this, you
think me arrogant and heartless, you do not trouble in one whit my vision
of myself, but you do, forever, mar my vision of you."

They stood face to face in the soft sweet air under an arch of wistaria; it
seemed a place to plight a troth, not to break one; but Jack knew that, if
he would, he could not have kept the truth from her. It held him, looked
from him; he was, at last, inevitably, to speak it.

"Imogen," he said, "I don't want to talk to you about your mother; I don't
want to defend her to you; I'm past that. I'll say nothing of your summing
up of her character,--it's grotesque, it's piteous, such assurance! But
I do tell you straight what I've come to feel of you--that you are a
cold-blooded, self-righteous, self-centered girl. And I'll say more: I
think that your bringing-up, the artificiality, the complacent theory of
it, is your best excuse; and I think that you'll never find any one so
generous and so understanding of you as your mother. If this mars me in
your eyes, I can't help it."

For a moment, in her deep anger,--horror running through it, too, as though
the very bottom had dropped out of things and she saw emptiness beneath
her,--she thought that she would tell him to leave her there, forever. But
Imogen's intelligence was at times a fairly efficacious substitute for
deeper promptings; and humiliation, instead of enwrapping her mind in a
flare of passionate vanity, seemed, when such intellectual apprehension
accompanied it, to clarify, to steady her thoughts. She saw, now, in the
sudden uncanny illumination, that in all her vehemence of this afternoon
there had been something fictitious. The sorrow, the resentment on her
father's account, she had, indeed, long felt; too long to feel keenly.
Her disapproval of the second marriage was already tinctured by a certain
satisfaction; it would free her of a thorn in the flesh, for such her
mother's presence in her life had become, and it would justify forever her
sense of superiority. It was all the clearest cause for indignation that
her mother had given her, and, seeing it as such, she had longed to make
Jack share her secure reprobation; but she hadn't, really, been able to
feel it as she saw it. It solved too many problems and salved too many
hurts. So now, standing there under the arch of wistaria, she saw through
herself; saw, at the very basis of her impulse, the dislocation that
had made its demonstration dramatic and unconvincing. Dreadful as the
humiliation was, her lips growing parched, her throat hot and dry with it,
her intelligence saw its cause too clearly for her to resent it as she
would have resented one less justified. There was, perhaps, something to
be said for Jack, disastrously wrong though he was; and, with all her
essential Tightness, there was, perhaps, something to be said against her.
She could not break, without further reflection, the threads that still
held them together.

So, at the moment of their deepest hostility, Jack was to have his sweetest
impression of her. She didn't order him away in tragic tones, as he almost
expected; she didn't overwhelm him with an icy torrent of reproach and
argument. Instead, as she stood there against her halo of black, the long
regard of her white face fixed on him, her eyes suddenly filled with tears.
She didn't acquiesce for a moment, or, for a moment, imply him anything but
miserably, pitiably wrong; but in a voice from which every trace of anger
had faded she said: "Oh Jack, how you hurt me!"

The shock of his surprise was so great that his cheeks flamed as though she
had struck him. Answering tears sprang to his eyes. He stammered, could not
speak at first, then got out: "Forgive me. I'd no business to say it. It's
lovely of you, Imogen, not just to send me off."

She felt her triumph, her half-triumph, at once. "Why, Jack, if you think
it, why should I forgive you for saying what, to you, seems the truth? You
have forgotten me, Jack, almost altogether; but don't forget that truth is
the thing that I care most for. If you must think these things of me--and
not only of me, of a dearer self, for I understand all that you meant--I
must accept the sorrow and pain of it. When we care for people we must
accept suffering because of them. Perhaps, in time, you may come to see
differently."

He knew, though she made him feel so abashed, that he could take back none
of the "things" he thought; but as she had smiled faintly at him he
answered with a wavering smile, putting out his hand to hers and holding it
while he said: "Shall we agree, then, to say nothing more about it! To be
as good friends--as the truth will let us?"

He had never hurt her as at that moment of gentleness, compunction, and
inflexibility, and thought, for a moment, was obscured by a rush of bitter
pain that could almost have cast her upon his breast, weeping and suppliant
for all that his words shut the door on--perhaps forever.

But such impulses were swiftly mastered in poor Imogen. Gravely pressing
his hand, she accepted the cutting compact, and, over her breathless sense
of loss, held firm to the spiritual advantage of magnanimity and courage.
He judged himself, not her, in letting her go, if he was really letting
her go; and she must see him wander away into the darkness, alone, leaving
her alone. It was tragic; it was nearly unendurable; but this was one of
life's hard lessons; her father had so often told her that they must be
unflinchingly faced, unflinchingly conquered. So she triumphed over the
weak crying out of human need.

They walked on slowly again, both feeling a little "done." Neither spoke
until, at the entrance of the park, and just before leaving its poetry for
the screaming prose of the great city, Imogen said: "One thing I want to
tell you, Jack, and that is that you may trust mama to me. Whatever I may
think of this happiness that she is reaching out for, I shall not make it
difficult or painful for her to take it. My pain shall cast no shadow on
her gladness."

Jack's face still showed its flush and his voice had all the steadiness of
his own interpretation, the steadiness of his refusal to accept hers, as he
answered, "Thanks, Imogen; that's very right of you."



XVII


Imogen and Sir Basil were walking down a woodland path under the sky of
American summer, a vast, high, cloudless dome of blue. Trees, tall and
delicate, in early June foliage, grew closely on the hillside; the grass of
the open glades was thick with wild Solomon's-seal, and fragile clusters of
wild columbine grew in the niches and crannies of the rocks, their pale-red
chalices filled with fantastically fretted gold.

Imogen, dressed in thin black lawn, fine plaitings of white at throat and
wrists, her golden head uncovered, walked a little before Sir Basil with
her long, light, deliberate step. She had an errand in the village two
miles away, and her mother had suggested that Sir Basil should go with her
and have some first impressions of rural New England. He had only arrived
the night before. Miss Bocock and the Pottses were expected this afternoon,
and Mrs. Wake had been for a fortnight established in her tiny cottage on
the opposite hillside.

"Tell me about your village here," Sir Basil had said, and Imogen, with
punctual courtesy and kindness, the carrying out of her promise to Jack,
had rejoined: "It would be rather uneventful annals that I should have to
tell you. The people are palely prosperous. They lead monotonous lives.
They look forward for variety and interest, I think, to the summer, when
all of us are here. One does all one can, then, to make some color for
them. I have organized a kindergarten for the tiny children, and a girls'
club for debates and reading; it will help to an awakening I believe. I'm
going to the club this afternoon. I'm very grateful to my girls for helping
me as they do to be of use to them. It's quite wonderful what they have
done already. Our village life is in no sense like yours in England, you
know; these people are all very proud and independent. It's as a friend,
not as a Lady Bountiful, that I go among them."

"I see," said Sir Basil, with interest, "that's awfully nice all round.
I wish we could get rid of a lot of stupid ways of thought at home. I'll
see something of these friends of yours at the house, then. I'm immensely
interested in all these differences, you know."

"You won't see them at the house. Our relation is friendly, not social.
That is a froth that doesn't count."

"Oh! and they don't mind that--not having the social relation, I mean--if
they are friends?"

"Why should they? I am not hurt because they do not ask me to their picnics
and parties, nor are they because I don't ask them to my dinners and teas.
We both understand that all that is a matter of manner and accident; that
in essentials we are equal."

"I see; but," Sir Basil still queried, "you wouldn't care about their
parties, I suppose, and don't you think they might like your dinners? At
least that's the way it would work out, I'm afraid, at home."

"Ah, it doesn't here. They are too civilized for that. Neither of us would
feel fitted to the superficial aspects of the others' lives."

"We have that sort of thing in England, too, you know; only perhaps we
look at it more from the other side, and recognize difference rather than
sameness."

"Very much more, I think," said Imogen with a slight smile. "I should
think that there was very little resemblance. Your social structure is
a wholesome, natural growth, embodying ideals that, in the main, are
unconscious. We started from that and have been building ever since toward
conscious ideals."

"Well,"--Sir Basil passed over this simile, a little perplexed,--"it's very
wonderful that they shouldn't feel--inferior, you know, in our ugly sense
of the word, if they only get one side of friendship and not the other. Now
that's how we manage in England, you see; but then I'm afraid it doesn't
work out as you say it does here; I'm afraid they do feel inferior, after a
fashion."

"Only the truly inferior could feel inferiority, since they get the real
side of friendship," said Imogen, with gentle authority. "And I can't think
that, in our sense of the word, the real side is given with you. There is
conscious condescension, conscious adaptation to a standard supposed
lower."

"I see; I see"; Sir Basil murmured, looking, while still perplexed, rather
conscience-stricken; "yes, I suppose you're right."

Imogen looked as though she more than supposed it, and, feeling himself
quite worsted, Sir Basil went on to ask her further questions about the
club and kindergarten.

"What a lot of work it must all mean for you," he said.

"That, I think, is one's only right to the advantages one has--education,
taste, inherited traditions," said Imogen, willing to enlighten this
charmingly civilized, yet spiritually barbarous, interlocutor who followed
her, tall, in his delightfully outdoor-looking garments, his tie and the
tilt of his Panama hat answering her nicest sense of fitness, and his
handsome brown face, quizzical, yet very attentive, meeting her eyes on
its leafy background whenever she turned her head. "If they are not made
instruments to use for others they rust in our hands and poison us," she
said. "That's the only real significance of an aristocracy, a class fitted
to serve, with the highest service, the needs of all. Of course, much of
our best and deepest thought about these things is English; don't imagine
me ungrateful to the noble thinkers of your--of my--race,--they have
moulded and inspired us; but, there is the strange paradox of your
civilization, your thought reacts so little on your life. Your idealists
and seers count only for your culture, and even in your culture affect so
little the automatic existence of your people. They form a little isolated
class, a leaven that lies outside the lump. Now, with us, thought rises,
works, ferments through every section of our common life."

Quite without fire, almost indolently, she spoke; very simply, too,
glancing round at him, as though she could not expect much understanding
from such an alien listener.

"I'm awfully glad, you know, to get you to talk to me like this," said Sir
Basil, after a meditative pause; "I saw a good bit of you in New York, but
you never talked much with me."

"You had mama to talk to."

"But I want to talk to you, too. You do a lot of thinking, I can see that."

"I try to"; she smiled a little at his _naïveté_.

"Your mother told me so much about you that I'm tremendously eager to know
you for myself."

"Well, I hope that you may come to, for mama's pictures of me are not
likely to be accurate," said Imogen mildly. "We don't think in the same way
or see things in the same way and, though we are so fond of each other, we
are not interested in the same things. Perhaps that is why I don't interest
her particular friends. They would not find much in common between mama and
me"; but her smile was now a little humorous and she was quite prepared for
his "Oh, but, I assure you, I am interested in you."

Already, with her unerring instinct for power, Imogen knew that Sir Basil
was interested in her. There was only, to be sure, a languid pleasure in
the sense of power over a person already, as it were, so bespoken, so in
bondage to other altars; but, though without a trace of coquetry, the smile
quietly claimed him as a partial, a damaged convert. Imogen always knew
when people were capable of being, as she expressed it to herself, "Hers."
She made small effort for those who were without the capacity. She never
misdirected such smiles upon Rose, or Miss Bocock, or Mrs. Wake. And now,
as Sir Basil went on to asseverate, just behind her shoulder, his pleasant
tones quite touched with eagerness, that the more he saw of her the more
interested he became, she allowed him to draw her into a playful argument
on the subject.

"Yes, I quite believe that you would like me--if you came to know me"--she
was willing to concede at last; "but, no, indeed no, I don't think that you
would ever feel much interest in me."

"You mean because I'm not sufficiently interesting myself? Is that it, eh?"
Sir Basil acutely asked, reflecting that he had never seen a girl walk so
beautifully or dress so exquisitely. The sunlight glittered in her hair.

"I don't mean that at all," said Imogen; "although I don't fancy that you
are interested so deeply, and in so many things, as I am."

"Now, really! Why not? You haven't given me a chance to show you. Of course
I'm not clever."

"I meant nothing petty, like cleverness."

"You mean that I don't take life seriously enough to please you?"

"Not that, exactly. It's that we face in opposite directions, as it were.
Life isn't to you what it is to me, it isn't to you such a big, beautiful
thing, with so many wonderful vistas in it--such far, high peaks."

She was very grave now, and the gravity, the assurance, and, with them, the
sweetness, of this young girl were charming and perplexing to Sir Basil.
Girls so assured he had found harsh, disagreeable and, almost always, ugly;
they had been the sort of girl one avoided. And girls so lovely had usually
been coy and foolish. This girl walked like a queen, looked at one like a
philosopher, smiled at one like an angel. He fixed his mind on her last
words, rallying his sense of quizzical paternity to meet such disconcerting
statements.

"Well, but you are very young; life looks like that--peaks, you know, and
vistas, and all the rest--when one is young. You've not had time to find it
out, to be disappointed," said Sir Basil.

Imogen's calm eye rested upon him, and even before she spoke he knew that
he had made a very false step. It was as if, sunken to the knees in his
foolish bog, he stood before her while she replied:

"Ah, it's that that is shallow in you, or, let us say, undeveloped, still
to be able to think of life in those terms. They are the thoughts of an
unawakened person, and some people, I know, go all through life without
awaking. You imagine, I suppose, that I think of life as something that
is going to give me happiness, to fulfil sentimental, girlish dreams. You
are mistaken. I have known bitter disappointments, bitter losses, bitter
shatterings of hope. But life is wonderful and beautiful to me because
we can be our best and do our best in it, and for it, if we try. It's an
immense adventure of the soul, an adventure that can disappoint only in the
frivolous sense you were thinking of. Such joys are not the objects of our
quest. One is disappointed with oneself, often, for falling so short of
one's vision, and people whom we love and trust may fail us and give us
piercing pain; but life, in all its oneness, is good and beautiful if we
wake to its deepest reality and give our hearts to the highest that we
know."

She spoke sadly, softly, surely, thinking of her own deep wounds, and to
speak such words was almost like repeating a familiar lesson,--how often
she had heard them on her father's lips,--and Sir Basil listened, while he
looked at the golden head, at the white hand stretched out now and then to
put aside a branch or sapling--listened with an amazement half baffled and
wholly admiring. He had never heard a girl talk like that. He had heard
such words before, often, of course, but they had never sounded like this;
they seemed fresh, and sparkling with a heavenly dew, spoken so quietly,
with such indifference to their effect, such calmness of conviction. The
first impression of her, that always hovered near, grew more strongly upon
him. There was something heavenly about this girl. It was as though he had
heard an angel singing in the woods, and a feeling of humility stole over
him. It was usual for Sir Basil, who rarely thought about himself, to feel
modest, but very unusual for him to feel humble.

"You make me believe it, when you say it," he murmured. "I'm afraid you
think me a dreadfully earthy, commonplace person."

Imogen, at the change of note in his voice, looked round at him, more
really aware of him than she had been at all, and when she met his glance
the prophet's calm fervor rose in her to answer the faith that she felt in
him. She paused, letting him come abreast of her in the narrow path, and
they both stood still, looking at each other.

"You are not earthy; you are not commonplace," said Imogen, then, as a
result of her contemplation. "I believe that you are a very big person, Sir
Basil."

"A big person? How do you mean?" He absolutely flushed, half abashed, half
delighted.

Imogen continued to gaze, clearly and deeply. "There are all sorts of
possibilities in you."

"Oh, come now! At my age! Why, any possibilities are over, except for a
cheerful kind of vegetating."

"You have vegetated all your life, I can see that. No one has ever waked
you. You have hardly _used_ your soul at all. It's with you as it is with
your country, whose life is built strongly and sanely with body and brain
but who has not felt nationally, as a whole, its spirit. Like it, you have
a spirit; like it, you are full of possibilities."

"Miss Upton, you aren't like anybody I've ever known. What sort of
possibilities?"

She walked on now, feeling his thrill echo in herself, symptomatic of the
passing forth of power and its return as enrichment of life and inspiration
to helpfulness. "Of service," she said. "Of devotion to great needs;
courage in great causes. I don't think that you have ever had a chance."

Sir Basil, keeping his eyes on her straight, pale profile, groping and
confused in this new flood of light, wondered if he had.

"You are an extraordinary young woman," he said at last. "You make me
believe in everything you say, though it's so awfully queer, you know, to
think in that way about myself. If you talk to me often like this, about
needs and causes, will it give me more of a chance, do you think?"

"We must all win to the light for ourselves," said Imogen very gently, "but
we can help one another."

They had come now to the edge of the wood and out upon the white road that
curved from the village up to the blue of the hills they had descended. A
tiny brook ran with a sharp, silvery tinkle on its farther edge and it was
bordered by a light barrier of white railing. Beyond were spacious,
half-cultivated meadows, stretched out for miles in the lap of low-lying
hills.

Serene yet inhuman the landscape looked, a background to the thinnest of
histories, significant only of its own dreaming solitude; and the village,
among its elms, a little farther on, suggested the barest past, the most
barren future. The road led on into its main street, where the elms made
a stately avenue, arching over scattered frame houses of buff and gray
and white. Imogen told Sir Basil that some of these houses were old, and
pointed out an austere classic façade with pediment and pillars; explained
to him, too, the pathetic condition of so much of abandoned New England.
Sir Basil was thinking more of her last words in the woods than of local
color, but he had, while he listened, a fairly definite impression of
pinchbeck shops; of shabby awnings slanting in the sunlight over heaps of
tumbled fruit and vegetables; of "buggies," slip-shod, with dust-whitened
wheels, the long-tailed, long-maned, slightly harnessed horses hitched to
posts along the pavements. The faces that passed were indolent yet eager.
The jaws of many worked mechanically at some unappeasing task of
mastication.

Sir Basil had traveled since his arrival in America, had seen the luxuries
of the Atlantic seacoast, the purposeful energy of Chicago, California's
Eden-like abundance, and had seen other New England villages where beauty
was cherished and made permanent. He hardly needed Imogen's further
comments to establish his sense of contrast.

"This was always a poor enough little place. Any people who made it count
left it long ago. But even here," she went on, "even in its stagnation, one
can find some of the things we care for in our country, some of the things
we live for."

Some of these things seemed personified in the figure of the young woman
who met them in the girls' club, among the shelves of books and the
numerous framed photographs from the old masters. Imogen introduced
Sir Basil to her and he watched her with interest while she and Imogen
discussed some business matters. She was slender and upright, perhaps too
upright; she was, in manner, unaffected and assured, perhaps too assured,
but that Sir Basil did not observe. He found her voice unpleasant and her
pronunciation faulty, but thought that she expressed herself with great
force and fluency. Her eyes were bright, her skin sallow, she smiled
gravely, and her calmness and her smile reminded Sir Basil a little of
Imogen; perhaps they were racial. She was dressed in a simple gray cotton
frock with neat lawn collar and cuffs, and her hair was raised in a
lustrous "pompadour," a wide comb traversing it behind and combs at the
sides of her head upholding it in front. Toward Sir Basil she behaved with
gracious stateliness of demeanor, so that he wondered anew at the anomalies
of a country of ideals where a young person so well-appearing should not be
asked to dinner.

Several other girls came in while they were there, and they all surrounded
Imogen with eager familiarity of manner; all displayed toward himself, as
he was introduced, variations of Miss Hickson's stateliness. He thought
it most delightful and interesting and the young women very remarkable
persons. One discordant note, only, was struck in the harmony, and
that discord was barely discerned by his untrained ear. While Imogen
was talking, a girl appeared in the doorway, hesitated, then, with an
indifferent and forbidding manner, strolled across the room to the
book-shelves, where she selected a book, strolling out again with the
barest nod of sullen recognition. She was a swarthy girl, robust and ample
of form, with black eyes and dusky cheeks. Her torn red blouse and untidy
hair marked her out from the sleek and social group. Sir Basil thought her
very interesting looking. He asked Imogen, as they walked away under the
elms, who she was. "That artistic young person, with the dark hair."

"Artistic? Do you mean Mattie Smith?--the girl with the bad manners?" asked
Imogen, smiling tolerantly.

"Yes, she looked like a clever young person. She belongs to the club?"

"She hardly counts as one of its members, though we welcome everyone, and,
like all the girls of the village, she enjoys the use of our library. She
is not clever, however. She is an envious and a rather ill-tempered girl,
with very little of the spirit of sisterhood in her. And she nurses her
defect of isolation and self-sufficiency. I hope that we may win her over
to wider, sweeter outlooks some day."

Mattie Smith, however, was one of the people upon whom Imogen wasted no
smiles. On the Uptons first coming to spend their summers near Hamborough,
Imogen had found this indolent yet forcible personality barring her path
of benignant activity. Mattie Smith, unaided, undirected, ignorant of the
Time Spirit's high demands upon the individual, had already formed a club
of sorts, a tawdry little room hung with bright bunting and adorned with
colored pictures from the cheaper magazines, pictures of over-elegant,
amorously inclined young couples in ball-rooms or on yachts and beaches.
Here the girls read poor literature, played games, made candy over the
stove and gossiped about their young men. Imogen deeply disapproved of the
place; its ventilation was atrocious and its moral influence harmful; it
relaxed and did not discipline,--so she had expressed it to her father. It
soon withered under her rival beams. Mattie Smith's members drifted by
degrees into the more advantageous alliance. Mattie Smith had resented this
triumphant placing of the higher standard and took pains, as Imogen, with
the calm displeasure of the successful, observed, to make difficulties
for her and to treat her with ostentatious disregard. Imogen guessed very
accurately at the seething of anger and jealousy that bubbled in Mattie
Smith's breast; it was typical of so much of the lamentable spirit
displayed by rudimentary natures when feeling the pressure of an ideal they
did not share or when brought into contact with a more finished manner of
life from which they were excluded. Imogen, too, could not have borne a
rival ascendancy; but she was ascendant through right divine, and, while so
acutely understanding Mattie Smith's state of mind, she could not recognize
a certain sameness of nature. She hoped that Mattie Smith would "grow," but
she felt that, essentially, she was not of the sort from which "hers" were
made.



XVIII


It was almost four o'clock by the time that Imogen and Sir Basil reached
the summit of one of the lower hills, and, among the trees, came upon the
white glimmer of the Upton's summer home. It stood in a wide clearing
surrounded on three sides by the woods, the higher ranges rising about it,
its lawn running down to slopes of long grass, thick with tall daisies
and buttercups. Farther on was an orchard, and then, beyond the dip of a
valley, the blue, undulating distance, bathed in a crystalline quivering.
The house, of rough white stucco, had lintels and window-frames of dark
wood, a roof of gray shingles, and bright green shutters. A wide veranda
ran around it, wreathed in vines and creepers, and borders of flowers
grew to the edges of the woods. Sir Basil thought that he had never seen
anything prettier. Valerie, dressed in thin black, was sitting on the
veranda, and beside her Miss Bocock, still in traveling dress, looked
incongruously ungraceful. She had arrived an hour before with the Pottses,
who had gone to their rooms, and said, in answer to Imogen's kindly
queries, that the journey hadn't been bad, though the train was very
stuffy. Then it appeared that Miss Bocock and Sir Basil were acquainted;
they recollected each other, shook hands heartily, and asked and answered
local questions. Miss Bocock's people lived not so many miles from Thremdon
Hall, and, though she had been little at home of late years, she and Sir
Basil had country memories in common. She said presently that she, too,
would like to tidy for the tea, and Imogen, taking her to her room, sat
with her while she smoothed out one section of her hair and tonged the
other, and while she put on a very stiff holland skirt and a blouse
distressing to Imogen's sensitive taste, a crude pink blouse, irrelevantly
adorned about the shoulders with a deep frill of imitation lace. While she
dressed she talked, in her high-pitched, cheerful voice, of the recent very
successful lectures she had given in Boston and the acquaintances she had
made there.

"I hope that my letters of introduction proved useful," said Imogen. She
considered Miss Bocock her _protégée_, but Miss Bocock, very vexatiously,
seemed always oblivious of that fact; so that Imogen, though feeling that
she had secured a guest who conferred luster, couldn't resist, now and
then, trying to bring her to a slightly clearer sense of obligation.

Miss Bocock said that, yes, they had been very useful, and Imogen watched
her select from the graceful nosegay on her dressing-table two red roses
which she pinned to her pink blouse with a heavy silver brooch
representing, in an encircling bough, a mother bird hovering with
outstretched wings over a precariously placed nest.

"Let me get you a white rose," Imogen suggested; but Miss Bocock said, no,
thanks, she was very fond of that shade of red.

"So you know Sir Basil," said Imogen, repressing her sense of irritation.

"Know him? Yes, of course. Everybody in the county knows him. He is the big
man thereabouts, you see. The old squire, his father, was very fond of my
father, and we go to a garden-party at the hall once a year or so. It's a
nice old place."

Imogen felt some perplexity. "But if your father and his were such friends
why don't you see more of each other?"

Miss Bocock looked cheerfully at her. "Why, because he is big and we
aren't. We are middle-class and he very much upper; it's a very old family,
the Thremdons,--I forget for how many generations they have been in Surrey.
Now my dear old dad was only a country doctor," Miss Bocock went on, seated
in a rocking-chair--she liked rocking-chairs--with her knees crossed, her
horribly shaped patent-leather shoes displayed and her clear eyes, through
their glasses, fixed on Imogen while she made these unshrinking statements;
"and a country doctor's family hasn't much to do with county people."

"What an ugly thing," said Imogen, while, swiftly, her mind adjusted itself
to this new seeing of Miss Bocock. By its illumination Miss Bocock's
assurance toward herself grew more irritating than before, and the fact
that Miss Bocock's flavor was very different from Sir Basil's became
apparent.

"Not at all," said Miss Bocock. "It's a natural crystallization. You are
working toward the same sort of thing over here--only not in such a
wholesome way, I think."

Imogen flushed a little. "Our crystallizations, when they aren't
artificially brought about by apings of your civilization, take place
through real superiority and fitness. A woman of your intellectual ability
is anybody's equal in America."

"Oh, as far as that goes, in that sense, I'm anybody's equal in England,
too," said Miss Bocock, unperturbed and unimpressed.

Imogen rather wished she could make her feel that, since crystallizations
were a fact, the Uptons, in that sense, were as much above her as the
Thremdons. Idealist democrat as she counted herself, she had these quick
glances at a standard kept, as it were, for private use; as if, from under
an altar in the temple of humanity, its priest were to draw out for some
personal reassurance a hidden yard-measure.

Tea, when they went down again, was served on the veranda and Imogen could
observe, during its progress, that Miss Bocock showed none of the
disposition to fawn on Sir Basil that one might have expected from a person
of the middle-class. She contradicted him as cheerfully as she did Imogen
herself.

Mr. and Mrs. Potts had gone for a little ramble in the lower woods,
but they soon appeared, Mr. Potts seating himself limply on the steps
and fanning himself with his broad straw hat--a hat that in its very
largeness and looseness seemed to express the inflexible ideals of
non-conformity--while Mrs. Potts, very firmly busked and bridled, her head
very sleek, her smile very tight, took a chair between Mrs. Upton and Sir
Basil, and soon showed, in her whole demeanor, a consciousness of the
latter's small titular decoration that placed her more definitely for
Imogen's eye than she had ever been placed before. The Pottses were
middle-class with a vengeance. Imogen's irritation grew as she watched
these limpet-like friends, one sprawling and ill-at-ease for all his
careful languor, the other quite dreadfully well-mannered, sipping her
tea, arching her brows and assuming all sorts of perilous elegancies of
pronunciation that Imogen had never before heard her attempt. It was an
additional vexation to have them display toward herself, with even more
exaggeration than usual, their tenacious tenderness; listening, with a
grave turning of head and eye when she spoke, and receiving each remark
with an over-emphasis of feeling on their over-mobile features.

There was, indeed, an odd irony in the Pottses being there at all. They
had, in her father's lifetime, only been asked with a horde of their kind,
the whole uplifted batch thus worked off together, and Imogen had really
not expected her mother to agree to her suggestion that they should be
invited to pay the annual visit during Sir Basil's stay. She would not own
to herself that her suggestion had been made from a vague wish to put her
mother to a test, to force her into a definite declaration against the
incongruous guests; she had thought of the suggestion, rather, as an
upholding of her father's banner before the oncoming betrayal; but, instead
of refusal, she had met with an instant, happy acquiescence, and it was now
surely the climax of irony to see how her mother, for her sake, bore with
them. More than for her sake, perhaps. Imogen detected in those seemingly
indolent, yet so observant, eyes a keen reading of the Pottses' perturbed
condition, and in her manner, so easy and so apt, the sweetest, lightest
kindness. She turned corners and drew veils for them, spread a warm haze
of interest and serenity about their clumsy and obtruding personalities.
Imogen could even see that the Pottses were reconsidering, with some
confusion of mind, their old verdict on her mother.

This realization brought to her brooding thoughts a sudden pang of
self-reproach. It wouldn't do for the Pottses to find in her mother the
cordiality they might miss in herself. She confessed that, for a moment,
she had allowed the banner to trail in the dust of worldly thoughts, the
banner to which the Pottses, poor dears, had rallied for so many loyal
years. She summoned once more all her funds of spiritual appreciation and
patience. As for Miss Bocock, she made not the slightest attempt to talk
to the Pottses. She had come up with them from the station,--they had not
found each other on the train,--and she had probably had her fill of them
in that time. Once or twice, in the act of helping herself plentifully to
cake, she paused to listen to them, and after that looked away, over their
heads or through them, as if she finally dismissed them from the field of
her attention. Mrs. Potts was questioning Sir Basil about his possible
knowledge of her own English ancestry. "We came over in the _Mayflower_,
you know," she said.

"Really," said Sir Basil, all courteous interest.

"The Claremonts, you know," said Mrs. Potts, modestly, yet firmly, too. "My
father was in direct descent; we have it all worked out in our family
tree."

"Oh, really," said Sir Basil again.

"I've no doubt," said Mrs. Potts, "that your forebears and mine, Sir Basil,
were friends and comrades in the spacious times of good Queen Bess."

Imogen, at this, glanced swiftly at her mother; but she caught no trace of
wavering on that mild countenance.

"Oh, well, no," Sir Basil answered. "My people were very little country
squires in those days; we didn't have much to do with the Dukes of
Claremont. We only began to go up, you see, a good bit after you were on
the top."

Imogen fixed a calm but a very cold eye upon Mrs. Potts. She had heard
of the Dukes of Claremont for many years; so had everybody who knew Mrs.
Potts; they were an innocent, an ingrained illusion of the good lady's, but
to-day they seemed less innocent and more irritating than usual. Imogen
felt that she could have boxed Mrs. Potts's silly ears. In Sir Basil's
pleasant disclaimers, too, there was an echo of Miss Bocock's
matter-of-fact acknowledgments that seemed to set them both leagues away
from the Pottses and to make their likeness greater than their difference.

"Well, of course," Mrs. Potts was going on, her _pince-nez_ and all her
small features mingled, as it were, in the vividest glitter, "for me, I
confess, it's blood, above all and beyond all, that counts; and you and I,
Sir Basil, know that it is in the squirearchy that some of the best blood
in England is found. We don't recognize an aristocracy in our country, Sir
Basil, but, though not recognized, it rules,--blood must rule; one often,
in a democracy, feels that as one's problem."

"It's only through service that it rules," Mr. Potts suddenly ejaculated
from where he sat doubled on the steps looking with a gloomy gaze into the
distance. "Service; service--that's our watchword. Lend a hand."

Imogen saw a latent boredom piercing Sir Basil's affability. Great truths
uttered by some lips might be made to seem very unefficacious. She proposed
to him that she should show him the wonderful display of mountain-laurel
that grew higher up among the pine-woods. He rose with alacrity, but Mrs.
Potts rose too. Imogen could hardly control her vexation when, nipping the
crumbs from her lap and smoothing the folds at her waist, she declared that
she was just in the humor for a walk and must see the laurel with them.

"You mustn't tire yourself. Wouldn't you rather stay and have another cup
of tea and talk to me?" Mrs. Upton interposed, so that Imogen felt a dart
of keen gratitude for such comprehension; but Mrs. Potts was not to be
turned aside from her purpose. "Thank you so much, dear Mrs. Upton," she
answered; "we must have many, many talks indeed; but I do want to see my
precious Imogen, and to see the laurel with her. You are one of those rare
beings, darling Imogen, with whom one can _share_ nature. Will you come,
too, Delancy, dear?" she asked her husband, "or will you stay and talk to
Mrs. Upton and Miss Bocock? I'm sure that they will be eager to hear of
this new peace committee of ours and zestful to help on the cause."

Mr. Potts rather sulkily said that he would stay and talk to Mrs. Upton and
Miss Bocock about the committee, and Imogen felt that it was in a manner of
atonement to him for her monopolization of a lustrous past that Mrs. Potts
presently, as they began the steep ascent along a winding, mossy path, told
Sir Basil that her husband, too, knew the responsibility and burden of
"blood." And as, for a moment, they went before her, Imogen fancied that
she heard the murmur of quite a new great name casting its ægis about Mr.
Potts. Very spiritual people could, she reflected, become strangely
mendacious when borne along on the wings of ardor and exaltation.

Mrs. Potts's presence was really quite intolerable, and, as she walked
behind her and listened to her murmur, Imogen bethought her of an amusing,
though rather ruthless, plan of elimination. Imogen was very capable of
ruthlessness when circumstances demanded it. Turning, therefore, suddenly
to the right, she led them into a steep and rocky path that, as she well
knew, would eventually prove impassable to Mrs. Potts's short legs and
stiff, fat person. Indeed, Mrs. Potts soon began to pant and sigh. Her
recital of the family annals became disconnected; she paused to take off
and rub her eyeglasses and presently asked, in extenuated tones, if this
were the usual path to the laurel.

"It's the one I always take, dear Mrs. Potts; it's the one I wanted Sir
Basil to see, it's so far the lovelier. One gets the most wonderful, steep
views down into far depths of blue," Imogen, perched like a slender
Valkyrie on the summit of a crag above, thus addressed her perturbed
friend.

She couldn't really but be amused by Mrs. Potts's pertinacity, for, not
yet relinquishing her purpose, she continued, in silence now, her lips
compressed, her forehead beaded with moisture, to scale the difficult way,
showing a resolute nimbleness amazing in one so ill-formed for feats of
agility. Sir Basil gave her a succoring hand while Imogen soared ahead,
confident of the moment when Mrs. Potts, perforce, must fall back.

"Tiresome woman!" she thought, but she couldn't help smiling while she
thought it, and heard Mrs. Potts's deep breath laboring up behind her. It
was, perhaps, rather a shame to balk her in this way; but, after all, she
was to have a full fortnight of Sir Basil and she, Imogen, felt that
on this day, the day of a new friendship, Sir Basil's claim on her was
paramount. She had something for him, a light, a strengthening, and she
must keep the hour sacred to that stir of awakening. Among the pines and
laurels she would say a few more words of help to him. So that Mrs. Potts
must be made to go.

The moment came. A shoulder of rock overhung the way and the only passage
was over its almost perpendicular surface. Imogen, as if unconscious of
difficulty, with a stride, a leap, a swift clutch of her firm white hand,
was at the top, smiling down at them and saying: "Now here the view is our
very loveliest. One looks down for miles."

"But--my dear Imogen--is there no other way, round it, perhaps?" Mrs. Potts
looked desperately into the thick underbrush on either side.

"No other way," said Imogen. "But you can manage it. This is only the
beginning,--there's some real climbing farther on. Put your foot where I
did--no, higher--near the little fern--your hand here, look, do you see?
Take a firm hold of that--then a good spring--and here you are."

Poor Mrs. Potts laid a faltering hand on the high ledge that was only a
first stage in the chamois-like feat, and Imogen saw unwilling
relinquishment in her eye.

"I don't see as I can do it," she murmured, relapsing, in her distress,
into a helpless vernacular.

"Oh, yes, this is nothing. Sir Basil will give you a push. I'll pull you
and he will push you," Imogen, with kindest solicitude, suggested.

"Oh, I don't see as I _can_," Mrs. Potts repeated, looking rather wild at
the vision of such a push. She didn't at all lend herself to pushes, and
yet, facing even the indignities of that method, she did, though faltering,
place herself in position; did lay a desperate hold of the high ledge,
place her small, fat, tightly buttoned foot high beside the fern; allow Sir
Basil, with a hand under each armpit, to kindly count "One-two-three--now
for it!"--did even, at the word of command, make a passionate jump, only to
lose hold, scrape lamentably down the surface of the rock, and collapse
into his arms.

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" said Imogen, looking down upon them while Sir Basil
placed Mrs. Potts upon her feet, and while Mrs. Potts, angered almost to
tears, rubbed with her handkerchief at the damage done to her dress. "I'm
so _very_ sorry, dear Mrs. Potts. I see that it is a little too steep for
you. And I did so want you to see this view."

"I shall have to go back. I am very tired, quite exhausted," said Mrs.
Potts, in a voice that slightly shook. "I wish you had taken the usual
path. I never dreamed that we were setting out on such a--such a violent
expedition."

"But this is my usual path," said Imogen, opening her eyes. "I've never
found it hard. And I wanted you and Sir Basil to see my view. But, dear
Mrs. Potts, let me go back with you. Sir Basil won't mind finding his way
alone, I'm sure."

"Oh, no, thanks! No, I couldn't think of spoiling your walk. No, I will go
back," and Mrs. Potts, turning away, began to retrace her steps.

"Be sure and lie down and rest; take a little nap before dinner," Imogen
called after her.

Mrs. Potts disappeared, and Imogen, when she and Sir Basil stood together
on the fortunate obstacle, said: "Poor, excellent creature. I _am_ sorry.
She is displeased with me. I ought to have remembered that this was too
rough for her and taken the other path." Indeed, she had felt rather guilty
as Mrs. Potts's back, the ridge of its high stays strongly marked by the
slanting sunlight, descended among the sylvan scenery.

"Yes, and she did so want to come, awfully keen on it," said Sir Basil;
"but I hope you won't think me very brutal if I confess that _I'm_ not
sorry. I want to talk to you, you see," Sir Basil beamed.

"I would rather talk to you, too," Imogen smiled. "My good old friend can
be very wearisome. But it was thoughtless of me to have brought her on this
way."

They rested for a little while on their rock, looking down into the
distance that was, indeed, worth any amount of climbing. And afterward,
when they reached the fairyland where the laurel drifted through the pine
woods, and as she quoted "Wood-Notes" to him and pointed out to him the
delicate splendors of the polished green, the clear, cold pink, on a
background of gray rock, Imogen could but feel her little naughtiness well
justified. It was delightful to be there in solitude with Sir Basil, and
the sense of sympathy that grew between her and this supplanter of her
father's was strange, but not unsweet. It wasn't only that she could help
him, and that that was always a claim to which one must respond, but she
liked helping him.

On the downward way, a little tired from the rapidity of her ascent, she
often gave her hand to Sir Basil as she leaped from rock to rock, and they
smiled at each other without speaking, already like the best of friends.

That evening, as she was going down to dinner, Imogen met her mother on the
stairs. They spoke little to each other during these days. Imogen felt that
her neutrality of attitude could best be maintained by silence.

"Mrs. Potts came back," her mother said, smiling a little, and, Imogen
fancied, with the old touch of timidity that she remembered in her. "She
said that you took her on a most fearful climb."

"What foolishness, poor dear Mrs. Potts! I took her along the upper path."

"The upper path! Is there an upper path?" Mrs. Upton descended beside her
daughter. "I thought that it was the usual path that had proved too much
for her."

"I wanted them to see the view from the rock," said Imogen; "I forgot that
poor Mrs. Potts would find it too difficult a climb."

"Oh, I remember, now, the rock! That is a difficult climb," said Mrs.
Upton.

Imogen wondered if her mother guessed at why Mrs. Potts had been taken on
it. She must feel it of good augury, if she did, that her daughter should
already like Sir Basil enough to indulge in such an uncharitable freak.
Imogen felt her color rise a little as she suspected herself and her
motives revealed. It was not that she wasn't quite ready to own to a
friendship with Sir Basil; but she didn't want friendship to be confused
with condonation, and she didn't like her mother to guess that she could
use Mrs. Potts uncharitably.



XIX


Her magnanimity toward Jack--so Imogen more and more clearly saw it to have
been--at the time of their parting, had made it inevitable that he should
hold to his engagement to visit them that summer, and even because of that
magnanimity, she felt, in thinking over again and again the things that
Jack had said of her and to her, a deepening of the cold indignation that
the magnanimity had quelled at the moment of his speaking them. Mingling
with the sense of snapped and bleeding ties was a longing, irrepressible,
profound, violent, that he might be humiliated, punished, brought to his
knees in penitence and abasement.

Her friendship with Sir Basil, his devotion to her, must be, though by no
means humiliating, something of a coal of fire laid on Jack's traitorous
head; and she saw at once that he was pleased, touched, but perplexed, by
what must seem to him an unforeseen smoothing of her mother's path. He was
there, she guessed, far more to see that her mother's path was made smooth
than to try and straighten out their own twisted and separate ways. He had
come for her mother, not for her; and Imogen did not know whether it was
more pain or anger that the realization gave her.

What puzzled him, what must have puzzled her mother, must puzzle, indeed,
anyone who perceived it,--except, no doubt, the innocent Sir Basil
himself,--was that this friendship took up most of Sir Basil's time.

To Sir Basil she stood for something lofty and exquisite that did not,
of course, clash with more rudimentary, if deeper, affections, but that,
perforce, made them stand aside for the little interlude where it soared
and sang. There was, for Imogen, a sharp sweetness in this fact and in
Jack's bewildered appreciation of it, though for her own consciousness
the triumph was no satisfying one. After all, of what use was it to soar
and sing if Sir Basil were to drop to earth so inevitably and so soon?
Outwardly, at all events, this unforeseen change in the situation gave her
all the advantage in her meeting with Jack. She was not the reproved and
isolated creature that he might have expected to find. She was not the
helpless girl, subjugated by an alien mother and cast off by a faithless
lover. No; calm, benignant, lovely, she had turned to other needs; one was
not helpless while one helped; not small when others looked up to one.

Under her calm was the lament; under her unfaltering smile, the loneliness
and the burning of that bitter indignation; but Jack could not guess at
that, and if both felt difficulty in the neatly balanced friendship pledged
under the wisteria, if there was a breathlessness for both in the
tight-rope performance,--where one false step might topple one over into
open hostility, or else, who knew, into complete surrender,--it was Imogen
who gained composure from Jack's nervousness, and while he walked the rope
with a fluttering breath and an anxious eye she herself could show the most
graceful slides and posturings in midair.

It was evident enough to everybody that the relation was a changed, a
precarious one, but all the seeming danger was Jack's alone.

Imogen, while she swung and balanced, often found her mother's eye fixed
on her with a deep preoccupation, and guessed that it was owing to her
mother's tactics that most of her _tête-à-têtes_ with Jack were due. Her
poor mother might imagine that she thus secured the solid foundation of
the earth for their footsteps, but Imogen knew that never was the rope so
dizzily swung as when she and Jack were thus gently coerced into solitude
together.

It was, however, a few days after Jack's arrival, and a few days before
the Pottses' departure, that an interest came to her of such an absorbing
nature that it wrapped her mind away from the chill or scorching sense
of her own wrongs. It was with the Pottses that the plan originated, and
though the Pottses were proving more trying than they had ever been, they
caught some of the radiance of their own proposal. As instruments in a
great purpose, she could look upon them more patiently, though, more than
ever, it would need tact to prevent them from shadowing the brightness that
they offered. The plan, apparently, had been with them for some time, its
disclosure delayed until the moment suited to its seriousness and sanctity,
and it was then, between the three, mapped out and discussed carefully
before they felt it ripe for further publicity. Then it was Imogen who told
them that the time had come for the unfolding to her mother, and Imogen who
led them, on a sunny afternoon, into her mother's little sitting-room where
she sat writing at her desk.

Jack was there, reading near the window that opened upon the veranda, but
his presence was not one to make the occasion less intimate, and Imogen was
glad of it. It was well that he should be a witness to what she felt to be
a confession of faith, a confession that needed explicit defining, and of a
faith that he and all the others, by common consent, seemed banded together
to ignore.

So, with something of the air of a lovely verger, she led her primed pair
into the room and pointed out two chairs to them.

Valerie, in her thin black draperies, looked pale and jaded. She turned
from her desk, keeping her pen in her hand, and Imogen detected in her eye,
as it rested upon the Pottses, a certain impatience.

Tison, suddenly awakening, broke into passionate barking; he had from the
moment of Mr. Potts's arrival shown toward him a pronounced aversion, and,
backed under the safe refuge of his mistress's chair, his sharp hostility
disturbed the ceremonious entrance.

"Please put the dog out, Jack," said Imogen; "we have a very serious matter
to talk over with mama." But Valerie, stooping, caught him up, keeping a
soothing hand on his still defiant head, while Mr. Potts unfolded the plan
before her.

The wonderful purpose, the wonderful project, was that Mr. Potts, aided by
Imogen, should write the life of the late Mr. Upton; and as the curtain was
drawn from before the shrined intention, Imogen saw that her mother flushed
deeply.

"His name must not be allowed to die from among us, Mrs. Upton. His ideals
must become more widely the ideals of his countrymen." Mr. Potts, crossing
his knees and throwing back his shoulders, wrapped one hand, while he
spoke, in a turn of his flowing beard. "They are in crying need of such a
message, now, when the tides of social materialism and political corruption
are at their height. We may well say, to paraphrase the great poet's
words: 'Upton! thou shouldst be living at this hour; New York hath need of
thee.' And this need is one that it is our duty, and our high privilege,
to satisfy." Mr. Potts's eye, heavy with its responsibility, dwelt on
Valerie's downcast face. "No one, I may say it frankly, Mrs. Upton, is
more fitted than I to satisfy that need and to hand on that message. No
one had more opportunity than I for understanding that radiant personality
in its public aspects. No one can feel more deeply than I that duty and
that privilege. Every American child should know the name of Upton;
every American man and woman should count him among the prophets of his
generation. He did not ask for fame, and we, his followers, ask none for
him. No marble temple, no effulgent light of stained glass;--no. But the
violets and lilies of childhood laid upon his grave; the tearful, yet
joyous whisper of those who come to share his spirit:--'I, too, am of his
race. I, too, can with him strive and with him achieve.'" Mr. Potts's voice
had risen, and Tison, once more, gave a couple of hoarse, smothered barks.

Imogen, though reared on verbal bombast, had found some difficulty in
maintaining her expression of uplifted approbation while Mr. Potts's
rhetoric rolled; her willingness that Mr. Potts should serve the cause did
not blind her to his inadequacy unless kept under the most careful control;
and now, though incensed by Tison's interjection, she felt it as something
of a relief, seizing the opportunity of Mr. Potts's momentary confusion
to suggest, in a gentle and guarded voice:--"You might tell mama now, Mr.
Potts, how we want her to help us."

"I am coming to that, Miss Imogen," said Mr. Potts, with a drop from
sonority to dryness;--"I was approaching that point when the dog
interrupted me"; and Mr. Potts cast a very venomous glance upon Tison.

"Had not the dog better be removed, Mrs. Upton?" Mrs. Potts, under her
breath, murmured, leaning, as if in a pew and above prayer books, forward
in her chair. But Mrs. Upton seemed deaf to the suggestion.

Mr. Potts cleared his throat and resumed somewhat tersely:--"This is our
project, Mrs. Upton, and we have come this afternoon to ask you for your
furtherance of it. You, of course, can provide me and Miss Imogen with
many materials, inaccessible otherwise, for this our work of love. Early
letters, to you;--early photographs;--reminiscences of his younger days,
and so on. Any suggestion as to the form and scope of the book we will be
glad, very glad, to consider."

Valerie had listened without a word or gesture, her pen still held in one
hand, Tison pressed to her by the other, as she sat sideways to the
writing-table. Imogen read in her face a mingled embarrassment and
displeasure.

"I am sure we must all be very grateful to Mr. Potts for this great idea of
his, mama dear," she said. "I thought of it, of course, as soon as papa
died; I knew that we all owed it to him, and to the country that he loved
and served so well; but I did not see my way, and have not seen it till
now. I've so little technical knowledge. But now I shall contribute a
little memoir to the biography and, in any other way, give Mr. Potts all
the aid I can. And we hope that you will, too. Papa's name is one that must
not be allowed to fade."

"I would rather talk of this at some other time, and with Mr. Potts alone,"
Valerie now said, not raising her eyes.

"But mama, this is my work, too. I must be present when it is talked of."

"No, Jack, don't go," said Valerie, looking up at the young man, who had
made a gesture of rising. "You and I, Imogen, will speak of this together,
and I will find an hour, later, when I will be free to talk to Mr. Potts."

"Mama darling," said Imogen, masking her rising anger in patient
playfulness, "you are a lazy, postponing person. You are not a bit busy,
and this is just the time to talk it over with us all. Of course Jack must
stay; we want his advice, too, severe critic as we know him to be. Come,
dear, put down that pen." She bent over her and drew the pen from her hand
while Mr. Potts watched the little scene, old suspicions clouding his
countenance.

"My time is limited, Mrs. Upton," he observed; "Mrs. Potts and I take our
departure to-morrow and, if I have heard aright, you expect acquaintances
to dinner. Therefore, if you will pardon me, I must ask you to let us have
the benefit, here and now, of your suggestions."

Valerie had not responded by any smile to Imogen's rather baleful
lightness, nor did she, by any penitence of look, respond to Mr. Potts's
urgency. She sat silent for a moment, and when she spoke it was in a
changed voice, dulled, monotonous. "If you insist on my speaking, now--and
openly,--I must say to you that I altogether disapprove of your project.
You will never," said Valerie, with a rising color, "gain my consent to
it."

A heavy silence followed her words, the only sound that of Tison's faint
sniffings, as, his nose outstretched and moving from side to side, he
cautiously savored the air in Mr. Potts's direction. Mrs. Potts stirred
slightly, and uttered a sharp, "Tht--tht." Mr. Potts, his hand still stayed
in his beard, gazed from under the fringed penthouse of his brows with an
arrested, bovine look.

It was Imogen who broke the silence. Standing beside her mother she had
felt the shock of a curious fulfilment go through her, as if she had almost
expected to hear what she now heard. She mastered her voice to ask:--"We
must demand your reasons for this--this very strange attitude, mama."

Her mother did not raise her eyes. "I don't think that your father was a
man of sufficient distinction to justify the publishing of his biography."

At this Mr. Potts breathed a deep, indignant volume of sound, louder than a
sigh, less articulate than a groan, through the forests of his beard.

"Sufficient distinction, Mrs. Upton! Sufficient distinction! You evidently
are quite ignorant of how great was the distinction of your late husband.
Ask us what that distinction was--ask any of his large circle of friends.
It was a distinction not of mind only, nor of birth and breeding--though
that was of the highest that this country has fostered--but it was a
distinction also of soul and spirit. Your husband, Mrs. Upton, fought with
speech and pen the iniquities of his country, the country that, as Miss
Imogen has said, he loved and served. He served, he loved, with mind and
heart and hand. He was the moving spirit in all the great causes of his
day, the vitalizing influence that poured faith and will-power into them.
He founded the cooperative community of Clackville; he organized the
society of the 'Doers' among our young men;--he was a patron of the arts;
talent was fostered, cheered on its way by him;--I can speak personally
of three young friends of mine--noble boys--whom he sent to Paris at his
own expense for the study of music and painting; when the great American
picture is painted, the great American symphony composed, it will be, in
all probability, to your husband that the country will owe the unveiling
of its power. And above all, Mrs. Upton, above all,"--Mr. Potts's voice
dropped to a thunderous solemnity,--"his character, his personality, his
spirit, were as a light shining in darkness to all who had the good fortune
to know him, and that light cannot, shall not, be cribbed, cabined and
confined to a merely private capacity. It is a public possession and
belongs to his country and to his age."

Tison, all unheeded now, had leapt to the floor and, during this address,
had stood directly in front of the speaker, barking furiously until Imogen,
her lips compressed, her forehead flushed, stooped, picked him up, and
flung him out of the room.

Mrs. Upton had sat quite motionless, only lifting her glance now and then
to Mr. Potts's shaking beard and flashing eye. And, after another pause,
in which only Mr. Potts's deep breathing was heard,--and the desperate
scratching at the door of the banished Tison,--she said in somber
tones:--"I think you forget, Mr. Potts, that I was never one of my
husband's appreciators. I am sorry to be forced to recall this fact to your
memory."

It had been in all their memories, of course, a vague, hovering
uncertainty, a dark suspicion that one put aside and would not look at. But
to have it now placed before them, and in these cold, these somber tones,
was to receive an icy douche of reality, to be convicted of over-ready
hope, over-generous confidence.

It was Imogen, again, who found words for the indignant deputation: "Is
that lamentable fact any reason why those who do appreciate him should not
share their knowledge with others?"

"I think it is;--I hope so, Imogen," her mother replied, not raising her
eyes to her.

"You tell us that your own ignorance and blindness is to prevent us from
writing my father's life?"

"My opinion of your father's relative insignificance is, I think, a
sufficient reason."

"Do you quite realize the arrogance of that attitude?"

"I accept all its responsibility, Imogen."

"But _we_ cannot accept it in you," said Imogen, her voice sinking to the
hard quiver of reality that Jack well knew;--"_we_ can't fail in our duty
to him because you have always failed in yours. _We_ are in no way bound to
consider you-who never considered him."

"Imogen," said her mother, raising her eyes with a look of command; "you
forget yourself. Be still."

Imogen's face froze to stone. Such words, such a look, she had never met
before. She stood silent, helpless, rage and despair at her heart.

But Mr. Potts did not lag behind his duty. His hand still wrapped,
Moses-like, in his beard, his eyes bent in holy wrath upon his hostess, he
rose to his feet, and Mrs. Potts, in recounting the scene--one of the most
thrilling of her life--always said that never had she seen Delancy so
superbly _true_, never had she seen blood so _tell_.

"I must say to you, Mrs. Upton, with the deepest pain," he said, "that I
agree with Miss Imogen. I must inform you, Mrs. Upton, that you have no
right, legal or moral, to bind us by your own shortcoming. Miss Imogen and
I may do our duty without your help or consent."

"I have nothing more to say to you, Mr. Potts," Valerie replied. She had,
unseeingly, taken up her pen again and, with a gesture habitual to her, was
drawing squares and crosses on the blotter under her hand. The lines
trembled. The angles of the squares would not meet.

"But I have still something to say to you, Mrs. Upton," said Mr. Potts; "I
have still to say to you that, much as you have shocked and pained us in
the past, you have never so shocked and pained us as now. We had hoped for
better things in you,--wider lights, deeper insights, the unsealing of your
eyes to error and wrong in yourself; we had hoped that sorrow would work
its sacred discipline and that, with your daughter's hand to guide you, you
were preparing to follow, from however far a distance, in the footsteps
of him who is gone. This must count for us, always, as a dark day of
life, when we have seen a human soul turn wilfully from the good held out
to it and choose deliberately the evil. I speak for myself and for Mrs.
Potts--and in sorrow rather than in wrath, Mrs. Upton. I say nothing of
your daughter; I bow my head before that sacred filial grief. I--"

But here, suddenly, quiet, swift, irresistible as a flame, Jack rose from
his place. It seemed one suave, unbroken motion, that by which he laid a
hand on Mr. Potts's shoulder, a hand on Mrs. Potts's shoulder--she had
risen in wonder and alarm at the menacing descent upon her lord--laid a
hand on each, swept them to the door, opened it, swept them out, and shut
the door upon them. Then he turned and leaned upon it, his arms folded.

"Perhaps, Jack, you wish to put me out, too," said Imogen in a voice of ice
and fire. "Your arguments are conclusive. I hope that mama approves her
champion."

Valerie now seemed to lean heavily on the table; she rested her forehead on
her hand, covering her eyes.

"Have you anything to say to me, mama, before Jack executes his justice on
me?" Imogen asked.

"Spare me, Imogen," her mother answered.

"Have you spared _me_?" said Imogen. "Have you spared my father? What right
have you to ask for mercy? You are a cruel, a shallow, a selfish woman, and
you break my heart as you broke his. Now Jack, you need not put me out. I
will go of myself."

When Jack had closed the door on her, he still stood leaning against it at
a distance from Valerie. He saw that she wept, bitterly and uncontrollably;
but, at first, awed by her grief, he did not dare approach her. It was only
when the sobs were quieted that he went and stood near her.

"You were right, right," he almost whispered.

She did not answer, and wept on as if there could be no consolation for her
in such rightness.

"It had to come," said Jack; "she had to be made to understand. And--you
are right."

She was not thinking of herself. "Oh, Jack Jack," she spoke at last,
putting out her hand to his and grasping it tightly "How I have hurt her.
Poor Imogen;--my poor, poor child."



XX


Imogen hardly knew where she went, or how, when she left her mother--her
mother and Jack--and darted from the house on the wings of a supreme
indignation, a supreme despair. Her sense of fitness was not that of Mr.
Potts, and she knew that her father's biography was doomed. Against her
mother's wish it could not, with any grace, any dignity, be published. Mr.
Potts would put forth appreciation of his departed chief in the small,
grandiloquent review to which he contributed--he had only delayed because
of the greater project--but such a tribute would be a sealing of public
failure rather than the kindling of public recognition. Already her father,
by that larger public, was forgotten--forgotten; Mr. Potts would not make
him remembered.

The word "forgotten" seemed like the beat of dark, tragic wings, bearing
her on and on. The fire of a bitter wrong burned in her. And it was not the
sense of personal wrong--though that was fierce,--that made her flight so
blind and headlong--not her mother's cruelty nor Jack's sinister espousal
of the cause he saw as evil; it was this final, this culminating wrong to
her father. His face rose before her, while she fled, the deep, dark eyes
dwelling with persistence on her as though they asked,--she seemed to hear
the very words and in his very voice:--"What have they done to me, little
daughter? Did I deserve this heaping of dust upon my name;--and from her
hands?"

For it was that. Dust, the dust of indifferent time, of cold-hearted
oblivion, was drifting over him, hiding his smile, his eyes, his tears.
It seemed to mount, to suffocate her, as she ran, this dust, strewn by
her mother's hand. Even in her own heart she had known the parching of
its drifting fall, known that crouching doubts--not of him, never of
him--but of his greatness, had lurked in ambush since her mother had come
home;--known that the Pottses and their fitness had never before been so
clearly seen for the little that they were since her mother--and all that
her mother had brought--had come into her life. And, before this drifting
of dust upon her faith in her father's greatness, her heart, all that was
deepest in it, broke into a greater trust, a greater love, sobs beneath it.
He was not great, perhaps, as the world counted greatness; but he was good,
good,--he was sorrowful and patient. He loved her as no one had ever loved
her. His ideals were hers and her love was his. Dust might lie on his tomb;
but never, never, in her heart.

"Ah, it's cruel! cruel! cruel!" she panted, as she ran, ran, up the rocky,
woodland path, leaping from ledge to ledge, slipping on the silky moss,
falling now and then on hands and knees, but not pausing or faltering until
she reached the murmuring pine-woods, the grassy, aromatic glades where the
mountain-laurel grew.

Pallid, disheveled, with tragic, unseeing eyes and parted lips--the
hollowed eyes, the sorrowful lips of a classic mask--she rushed from the
shadows of the mountain--path into this place of sunlight and solitude. A
doomed, distraught Antigone.

And so she looked to Sir Basil, who, his back against a warm rock, a
cigarette in one lazy hand, was outstretched there before her on the moss,
a bush of flowering laurel at his head, and, at his feet, beyond tree-tops,
the steep, far blue of the lower world. He was gazing placidly at this
view, empty of thought and even of conscious appreciation, wrapped in a
balmy contentment, when, with the long, deep breath of a hunted deer,
Imogen leaped from darkness into light, and her face announced such
disaster that, casting aside the cigarette, springing to his feet, he
seized her by the arms, thinking that she might fall before him. And
indeed she would have cast herself face downward on the grass had he not
been there; and she leaned forward on his supporting hands, speechless,
breathing heavily, borne down by the impetus of her headlong run. Then, her
face hidden from him as she leaned, she burst into sobs.

"Miss Upton!--Imogen!--My dear child!--" said Sir Basil, in a crescendo of
distress and solicitude.

She leaned there on his hands weeping so bitterly and so helplessly that he
finished his phrase by putting an arm around her, and so more effectually
supporting her, so satisfying, also, his own desire to comfort and caress
her.

The human touch, the human tenderness--though him she hardly realized--drew
her grief to articulateness. "Oh--my father!--my father!--Oh--what have
they done to you!" she gasped, leaning her forehead against Sir Basil's
shoulder.

"Your father?" Sir Basil repeated soothingly, since this departed
personality seemed a menace that might easily be dealt with, "What is it?
What have they done? How can I help you? My dear child, do treat me as a
friend. Do tell me what is the matter."

"It's mama! mama!--she has broken my heart--as she broke his," sobbed
Imogen, finding her former words. Already, such was the amazing irony of
events, Sir Basil seemed, more than anyone in the world, to take that
dead father's place, to help her in her grief over him. The puzzle of it
inflicted a deeper pang. "I can't tell you," she sobbed. "But I can never,
never forgive her!"

"Forgive your mother?" Sir Basil repeated, shocked. "Don't, I beg of you,
speak so. It's some misunderstanding."

"No!--No!--It is understanding--it is the whole understanding! It has come
out at last--the truth--the dreadful truth."

"But can't you tell me? can't you explain?"

She lifted her face and drew away from him as she said, pressing her
handkerchief to her eyes: "You never knew him. You cannot care for him--no
one who cares, as much as you do, for her,--can ever care for him."

Sir Basil had deeply flushed. He led her to the sunny rock and made her
sit down on a low ledge, where she leaned forward, her face in her hands,
long sighs of exhaustion succeeding her tears. "I know nothing about your
father, as you say, and I do care, very much, for your mother," said Sir
Basil after a little while. "But I care for you, very much, too."

"Ah, but you could never care for me so much as to think her wrong."

"I don't know about that. Why not?--if she is wrong. One often thinks
people one is fond of very wrong. Do you know," and Sir Basil now sat down
beside her, a little lower, on the moss, "do you know you'll make me quite
wretched if you won't have confidence in me. I really can't stand seeing
you suffer and not know what it's about. I don't--I can't feel myself such
a stranger as that. Won't you think of me," he took one of her hands and
held it as he said this, "won't you think of me as, well, as a sort of
affectionate old brother, you know? I want to be trusted, and to see if I
can't help you. Don't be afraid," he added, "of being disloyal--of making
me care less, you know, for your mother, by anything you say; for you
wouldn't."

Leaning there, her face hidden, while she half heard him, it struck her
suddenly, a shaft of light in darkness, that, indeed, he might help her.
She dropped her hand to look at him and, with all its tear-stained
disfigurement, he thought that he had never seen anything more heavenly
than that look. It sought, it sounded him, pleaded with and caressed him.
And, with all its solemnity, there dawned in it a tenderness deeper than
any that he had ever seen in her.

"I do trust you," she said. "I think of you as a near, a dear friend. And,
since you promise me that it will change you in nothing, I will tell you. I
believe that perhaps you can help us,--my father and me. You must count me
with him, you know, always. We want to write a life of him, Mr. Potts and
I. Mr. Potts--you may have seen it--is an ordinary person, ordinary but
for one thing, one great and beautiful thing that papa and I always felt
in him,--and that beautiful thing is his depth of unselfish devotion to
great causes and to good people. He worked for my father like a faithful,
loving dog. He had an accurate knowledge of all the activities that papa's
life was given to--all the ideals it aimed at and attained--yes, yes,
attained,--whatever they may say. He has a very skilful pen, and is in
touch with the public press. So, though I would, of course, have wished for
a more adequate biographer, I was glad and proud to accept his offer; and I
would have overlooked, revised, everything. We felt,--and by we, I mean not
only Mr. and Mrs. Potts, but all his many, many friends, all those whose
lives he loved and helped and lifted--that we owed it to the world he
served not to let his name fade from among us. You cannot dream, Sir Basil,
of what sort of man my father was. His life was one long devotion to the
highest things, one long service of the weak and oppressed, one long battle
with the wrong. Those who are incapable of following him to the heights can
give you no true picture of him. I will say nothing, in this respect, of
mama, except that she could not follow him,--and that she made him very,
very unhappy, and with him, me. For I shared all his griefs. She left us;
she laughed at all the things we cared and worked for. My father never
spoke bitterly of her; his last words, almost, were for her, words of
tenderness and pity and forgiveness. He had the capacity that only great
souls have, of love for littler natures. I say this much so that you may
know that any idea that you may have gathered of my father is, perforce, a
garbled, a false one. He was a noble, a wonderful man. Everything I am I
owe to him."

Imogen had straightened herself, the traces of weeping almost gone, her own
fluency, as was usual with her, quieting her emotion, even while her own
and her father's wrongs, thus objectivized in careful phrases, made
indignation at once colder and deeper. Her very effort to quell
indignation, to command her voice to an even justice of tone before this
lover of her mother's, gave it a resonant quality, curiously impressive.
And, as she looked before her, down into the blue profundities, the sense
of her own sincerity seemed to pulse back to her from her silent listener,
and filled her with a growing consciousness of power over him.

"This morning," she took up her theme on that resonant note, deepened to a
tragic pitch, "we went to mama--Mr. Potts and I--to tell her of our project
of commemoration, to ask her coöperation. We wanted to be very generous
with her, to take her help and her sympathy for granted. I should have
felt it an insult to my mother had I told Mr. Potts that we must carry on
our work without consulting her. She received us with cold indifference.
She tried not to listen, when she heard what our errand was. And her
indifference became hostility, when she understood. All her old hatred for
what he was and meant, all her fundamental antagonism to the purpose of his
life--and to him--came at last, openly, to the light. She was forced to
reveal herself. Not only has she no love, no reverence for him, but she
cannot bear that others should learn to love him and to reverence him.
She sneered at his claim to distinction; she refused her consent to our
project. It is a terrible thing for me to say--but I must--and you will
understand me--you who will not care less for her because she is so
wrong--what I feel most of all in her attitude is a childish, yet a cruel,
jealousy. She cannot endure that she should be so put into the dark by the
spreading of his light. The greater his radiance is shown to be, the more
in the wrong will all her life be proved;--it is that that she will not
hear of. She _wants_ him to be obscure, undistinguished, negligible,
because it's that that she has always thought him."

Sir Basil, while she spoke, had kept his eyes fixed on the hand he
held, a beautiful hand, white, curiously narrow, with pointed, upturned
finger-tips. Once or twice a dull color rose to his sunburned cheek, but in
his well-balanced mind was a steady perception of what the filial grief and
pain must be from which certain words came. He could not resent them; it
was inevitable that a child who had so loved her father should so think and
feel. And her self-control, her accurate fluency, answered with him for her
sincerity as emotion could not have done. Passion would never carry this
noble girl into overstatement. Fairness constrained him to admit, while he
listened, that dark color in his cheek, that her view of her father was
more likely to be right than her mother's view. An unhappily married woman
was seldom fair. Mrs. Upton had never mentioned her husband to him, never
alluded to him except in most formal terms; but the facts of her flight
from the marital hearth, the fact that he had made her so unhappy, had been
to him sufficient evidence of Mr. Upton's general unworthiness. Now, though
Imogen's tragic ardor did not communicate any of her faith in her father's
wonder or nobility, it did convince him of past unfairness toward, no
doubt, a most worthy man. Incompatibility, that had been the trouble; he
one of these reformer people, very much in earnest; and Mrs. Upton, dear
and lovely though she was, with not a trace of such enthusiasm in her moral
make-up.

So, when Imogen had finished, though he sat silent for a little while,
though beneath the steady survey of what she put before him was a stirring
of trouble, it was in a tone of quiet acceptance that he at last said,
looking up at her, "Yes; I quite see what you feel about it. To you, of
course, they must look like that, your mother's reasons. They must look
very differently to her, that goes without saying. We can't really make out
these things, you know, these fundamental antagonisms; I never knew it went
as far as that. But I quite see. Poor child. I'm very sorry. It is most
awfully hard on you."

"Don't think of me!" Imogen breathed out on a note of pain. "It's not of
myself I'm thinking, not of my humiliation and despair--but of him!--of
him!--Is it _right_ that I should submit? _Ought_ a project like ours to be
abandoned for such a reason?"

Again Sir Basil was silent for some moments, considering the narrow white
hands. "Perhaps she'll come round,--think better of it."

"Ah!--" it was now on a note of deep, of tremulous hope that she breathed
it out, looking into his eyes with the profound, searching look so moving
to him; "Ah!--it's there, it's there, that you could help me. She would
never yield to me. She might to you."

"Oh, I don't think that likely," Sir Basil protested, the flush darkening.

"Yes, yes," said Imogen, leaning toward him above his clasp of her hand.
"Yes, if anything is likely that is so. If hope is anywhere, it's there.
Don't you see, in her eyes I stand for _him_. To yield to me would be like
yielding to him, would be his triumph. That's what she can't forgive in
me--that I do stand for him, that I live by all that she rejected. She
would never yield to me,--but she might yield _for_ you."

"Shall I speak to her about it?" Sir Basil asked abruptly, after another
moment in which Imogen's hand grasped his tightly, its soft, warm fingers
more potent in appeal than even her eyes had been. And now, again,
she leaned toward him, her eyes inundating him with radiant trust and
gratitude, her hands drawing his hand to her breast and holding it there,
so clasped.

"Will you?--Oh, will you?--dear Sir Basil."

Sir Basil stammered a little. "I'll have a try--It's hard on you, I think.
I don't see why you shouldn't have your heart's desire. It's an awfully
queer thing to do,--but, for your sake, I'll have a try--put it to her, you
know."

"Ah, I _knew_ that you were big," said Imogen.

He looked at her, his hand between her hands. The flowering laurel was
behind her head. The pine-forest murmured about them. The sky was blue
above them, and the deep blue of the distance lay at their feet. Suddenly,
as they looked into each other's eyes, it dawned in the consciousness of
both that something was happening.

It was to Sir Basil that it was happening. Imogen's was but the
consciousness of his experience. Such a thing could hardly happen to
Imogen. Neither her senses, nor her emotions, nor her imagination played
any dominant part in her nature. She was incapable of falling in love in
the helpless, headlong, human fashion that the term implies. But though
such feeling lacked, the perception of it in others was swift, and while
she leaned to Sir Basil in the sunlight, while she clasped his hand to her
breast, while their eyes dwelt deeply on each other, she seemed to hear,
like a rising chime of wonder and delight, the ringing of herald bells that
sang: "Mine--mine--mine--if I choose to take him."

Wonderful indeed it was to feel this influx of certain power. Sunlight,
like that about them, seemed to rise, slowly, softly, within her, like the
upwelling of a spring of joy.

It was happening, it had happened to him, his eyes told her that; but
whether he knew as she did she doubted and, for the beautiful moment, it
added a last touch of charm to her exultation to know that, while she was
sure, she could leave that light veil of his wonder shimmering between
them.

With the vision of the unveiling her mind leaped to the thought of her
mother and of Jack, and with that thought came a swift pulse of vengeful
gladness. So she would make answer to them both--the scorner--the rejector.
Not for a moment must she listen to the voices of petty doubts and pities.
This love, that lay like a bauble in her mother's hand--an unfit ornament
for her years--would shine on her own head like a diadem. Unasked,
undreamed of, it had turned to her; it was her highest duty to keep and
wear it. It was far, far more than her duty to herself; it was her duty to
this man, finished, mature, yet full of unawakened possibility; it was her
duty to that large, vague world that his life touched, a world where her
young faiths and vigors would bring a light such as her mother's gay little
taper could never spread. These thoughts, and others, flashed through
Imogen's mind, with the swiftness and exactitude of a drowning vision. Yet,
after the long moment of vivid realization, it was at its height that a
qualm, a sinking overtook her. The gift had come; of that she was sure. But
its triumphant displayal might be delayed--nay, might be jeopardized. Some
perverse loyalty in his nature, some terrified decisiveness of action on
her mother's part, and the golden reality might even be made to crumble.
For one moment, as the qualm seized her, she saw herself--and the thought
was like a flying flame that scorched her lips as it passed--she saw
herself sweeping aside the veil, sinking upon his breast, with tears that
would reveal him to himself and her to him.

But it was impossible for Imogen to yield open-eyed to temptation that
could not be sanctified. Her strong sense of personal dignity held her from
the impulse, and a quick recognition, too, that it might lower her starry
altitude in his eyes. She must stand still, stand perfectly still, and he
would come to her. She could protect him from her mother's clinging--this
she recognized as a strange yet an insistent duty--but between him and her
there must not be a shadow, an ambiguity.

The radiance of the renunciation, the resolve, was in her face as she
gently released his hand, gently rose, standing smiling, with a strange,
rapt smile, above him.

Sir Basil rose, too, silent, and looking hard at her. She guessed at the
turmoil, the wonder of his honest soul, his fear lest she did guess it,
and, with the fear, the irrepressible hope that, in some sense, it was
echoed.

"My dear, dear friend," she said, putting her hand on his shoulder,
as though with the gesture she dubbed him her knight, "my more than
friend--shall it be elder brother?--I believe that you will be able to
help me and my father. And if you fail--my gratitude to you will be none
the less great. I can't tell you how I trust you, how I care for you."

From his face she looked up at the sky above them; and in the sunlight
her innocent, uplifted smile made her like a heavenly child. "Isn't it
wonderful?--beautiful?--" she said, almost conquering her inner fear by
the seeming what she wished to be. "Look up, Sir Basil!--Doesn't it seem
to heal everything,--to glorify everything,--to promise everything?"

He looked up at the sky, still speechless. Her face, her smile--the sky
above it--did it not heal, glorify, promise in its innocence? If a great
thing claims one suddenly, must not the lesser things inevitably go?--Could
one hold them?--Ought one to try to hold them? There was tumult in poor Sir
Basil's soul, the tumult of partings and meetings.

But when everything culminated in the longing to seize this heavenly
child--this heavenly woman--to seize and kiss her--a sturdy sense of
honesty warned him that not so could he, with honor, go forward. He must
see his way more clearly than that. Strange that he had been so blind, till
now, of where all ways, since his coming to Vermont, had been leading him.
He could see them now, plainly enough.

Taking Imogen's hand once more, he pressed it, dropped it, looked into her
eyes and said, as they turned to the descent: "That was swearing eternal
friendship, wasn't it!"



XXI


Violent emotions, in highly civilized surroundings, may wonderfully be
effaced by the common effort of those who have learned how to live. Of
these there were, perhaps, not many in our little group; but the guidance
of such a past mistress of the art as Imogen's mother steered the social
craft, on this occasion, past the reefs and breakers into a tolerably
smooth sea.

With an ally as facile, despite his personal perturbations, as Sir Basil,
a friend like Mrs. Wake at hand--a friend to whom one had never to make
explanations, yet who always understood what was wanted of her,--with
a presence so propitious as the calm and unconscious Miss Bocock, the
sickening plunges of explanation and recrimination that accompany unwary
seafaring and unskilful seamanship were quite avoided in the time that
passed between Valerie's appearance at the tea-table--where she dispensed
refreshment to Mrs. Wake, Miss Bocock, and Jack only--and the meeting of
all the ship's crew at dinner.

Valerie, in that ominous interlude, even when Sir Basil appeared on the
veranda, alone, but saying that he had been for a walk with Miss Upton, who
was tired and had gone to her room to rest, even when she observed that
the Pottses had decided upon maintaining a splendid isolation in their
own chambers, did not permit the ship to turn for one moment in such a
direction. She had tea sent up to Imogen and tea sent up to the Pottses;
but no messages of any sort accompanied either perfectly appointed tray,
and when the dinner hour arrived she faced the Pottses' speechless dignity
and Imogen's _mater dolorosa_ eyelids with perfect composure. She seemed,
on meeting the Pottses, neither to ignore nor to recall.

She seemed to understand speechlessness, yet to take it lightly, as if on
their account. She talked at them, through them, with them, really, in such
a manner that they were drawn helplessly into her shuttle and woven into
the gracefully gliding pattern of social convention in spite of themselves.
In fact, she preserved appearances with such success that everyone, to each
one's surprise, was able to make an excellent dinner.

After high emotions, as after high seas, the appetite is capricious,
shrinking to the shudder of repulsion or rising to whetted keenness.
Valerie had the satisfaction of seeing that her crew, as they assured
themselves--or, rather, as she assured them--that the waters were silken
in their calm, showed the reaction from moral stress in wholesome sensuous
gratification. Even Mrs. and Mr. Potts, even Imogen, were hungry.

She herself had still too strongly upon her the qualm of imminent shipwreck
to do more than seem to join them; but it was only natural that the
captain, who alone was conscious of just how near the reefs were and of
just how threatening the horizon loomed, should lack the appetite that his
reassuring presence evoked. Jack noticed that she ate nothing, but he alone
noticed it.

It was perhaps Jack who noticed most universally at that wonderful little
dinner, where the shaded candle-light seemed to isolate them in its soft,
diffused circle of radiance and the windows, with their faintly stirring
muslin curtains, to open on a warm, mysterious ocean of darkness. The
others were too much occupied with their own particular miseries and in
their own particular reliefs to notice how the captain fared.

Mrs. Wake must, no doubt, guess that something was up, but she couldn't
in the least guess how much. She watched, but her observation, her
watchfulness, could be in no sense like his own. Miss Bocock, in a low-cut
blouse of guipure and pale-blue satin, her favorite red roses pinned on
her shoulder, her fringe freshly and crisply curled above her eyeglasses,
was the only quite unconscious presence, and so innocent was her
unconsciousness that it could not well be observant. Indeed, in one sinking
moment, she leaned forward, with unwonted kindliness, to ask the stony Mrs.
Potts if her headache was better, a question received with a sphinx-like
bow. Apart, however, from the one or two blunders of unconsciousness, Jack
saw that Miss Bocock was very useful to Valerie; more useful than himself,
on whom, he felt, her eye did not venture to rest for any length of time.
Too tragic a consciousness would rise between them if their glances too
deeply intermingled.

Miss Bocock's gaze, behind its crystal medium, was a smooth surface from
which the light balls of dialogue rebounded easily. Miss Bocock thought
that she had never talked so well upon her own topics as on this occasion,
and from the intentness of the glances turned upon her she might well have
been misled as to her effectiveness. The company seemed to thirst for every
detail as to her theory of the rise of the Mycenean civilization. Mrs.
Wake, for all her tact, was too wary, too observant, to fill so perfectly
the part of buffer-state as was Miss Bocock.

If one wanted pure amusement, with but the faintest tincture of pity to
color it, the countenances of the Pottses were worth close study. That
their silence was not for one moment allowed to become awkward, to
themselves, or to others, Jack recognized as one of Valerie's miracles that
night, and when he considered that the Pottses might not guess to whom they
owed their ease, he could hardly pity them. That their eyes should not meet
his, except for a heavy stare or two, was natural. After this meeting in
the mirage-like oasis that Valerie made bloom for them all, he knew that
for the Pottses he would be relegated to the sightless, soundless Saharas
of a burning remembrance. It was but a small part of his attention that was
spared to the consciousness that Mr. Potts was very uplifted, that Mrs.
Potts was very tense, and that Mrs. Potts's dress, as if in protest against
any form of relaxation and condonation, was very, very high and tight.
Indeed, Mrs. Potts, in her room, before the descent, had said to her
husband, in the mutual tones of their great situation, laying aside with
resolution the half-high bodice that, till then, had marked her concession
to fashionable standards, "Never, never again, in her house. Let her bare
her bosom if she will. I shall protest against her by every symbol."

Mr. Potts, with somber justice, as though he exonerated an Agrippina from
one of many crimes, had remarked that the bosom, as far as he had observed
it, had been slightly veiled; but:--"I understand those tuckers," Mrs.
Potts had replied with a withering smile, presenting her back for her
husband to hook, a marital office that usually left Mr. Potts in an
exhausted condition.

So Mrs. Potts this evening seemed at once to mourn, to protest and to
accuse, covered to her chin with a relentless black.

But, though Jack saw all this, he was not in the humor for more than a
superficial sense of amusement. With his excited sense of mirth was a
deeper sense of disaster, and the poor Pottses were at once too grotesque
and too insignificant to satisfy it.

It was upon Imogen and Sir Basil that his eye most frequently turned.
Valerie had put them together, separated from herself by the whole length
of the table; Mr. Potts was on Imogen's other hand; Miss Bocock sat between
Mr. Potts and Valerie, and Jack, Mrs. Wake and Mrs. Potts brought the
circle round to Sir Basil, a neat gradation of affinities.

Jack, in a glance, had seen that Imogen had been passionately weeping; he
could well imagine that grief. But before her pallid face and sunken eyes
he knew that his heart was hardened. Never, judged from a dispassionate
standard, had Imogen been so right, and her rightness left him indifferent.
If she had been wrong; if she had been, in some sense guilty, if her
consciousness had not been so supremely spotless, he would have been
sorrier for her. It was the woman beside him whose motives he could not
penetrate, whose action to-day had seemed to him mistaken, it was for her
that his heart ached. Imogen he seemed to survey from across a far, wide
chasm of alienation.

Sir Basil was evidently as bent on helping her as was her mother. He talked
very gaily, tossing back all Valerie's balls. He rallied Miss Bocock on
her radical tendencies, and engaged in a humorous dispute with Mrs. Wake
in defense of racing. Imogen, when he spoke, turned her eyes on him and
listened gravely. When her mother spoke, she looked down at her plate. But
once or twice Jack caught her eye, while her mother's attention was engaged
elsewhere, resting upon her with a curious, a piercing intentness. Such a
cold glitter, as of steel, was in the glance, that, instinctively, his own
turned on Valerie, as if he had felt her threatened.

This instinct of protection was oddly on the watch to-night. Under
the sense of mirth and disaster a deeper thing throbbed in him, some
inarticulate sorrow, greater than the apparent causes warranted, that
mourned with and for her. In the illumination of this intuition Valerie, he
thought, had never been so lovely as to-night. It seemed to him that her
body, with its indolence of aspect, expressed an almost superhuman courage.
She was soft and fragile and weary, leaning there in her transparent black,
her cheek in her hand, her elbow, in, its loose sleeve, resting on the
table; but she made him think of a reed: that the tempest could not break.

Her face was pale, he had never seen it so drained of its dusky rose. There
was something inexpressibly touching in the flicker of her smile on the
white, white cheek, in the innocent gaiety of the dimple placed high and
recalling Japanese suggestions, vague as the scent of sandal-wood. She,
too, had wept, as he well knew; and his heart ached, dully, as he thought
of that bitter weeping, those tears, of humility and pain. Her eyelids,
strangely discolored, were like the petals of a melancholy flower, and her
eyes were heavy and gentle.

A vague, absurdly alarming sense of presage grew upon him as his eyes went
from this face to Imogen's--so still, so cold, so unanswering, lightened,
as if from a vail of heavy cloud, by that stealthy, baleful, illuminating
glance. In Imogen's whole bearing he read renouncement, but renouncement,
in her hand, would assuredly prove a scourge for her mother's shoulders.
For the time that they must be together, she and her mother, her sense of
her own proved rightness would be relentless, as inflexible as and as
relentless as her sense of bitter wrong.

Valerie's shoulders were bared and bowed. She was ready to take it all. But
it was here, for Jack, that the deep instinct of protection centered at
last in a clear decision; it was here that he felt himself rush in with the
only solution, the only salvation. At the thought of it, that one solution,
his heart ached more sharply, but it ached for himself alone. For she must
go away; yes, that was the only escape; she must go away at once, with Sir
Basil. She had failed. She had said it to him that morning in a few broken
sentences before relinquishing the hand she grasped.

"I've done more than fail. I've wrecked things"; and she had smiled
piteously upon him and left him.

He knew of what she spoke, of the disaster that, as she had seen, finally
and irrevocably had overtaken his love for her child.

And it was true, of course. She had failed. She had wrecked things; but in
his eyes, the failure she bore, the destruction she brought, made others
dark, not her. She must accept the irony of things,--it was not on her that
its shadow rested, and she must go, back to her own place, back to her own
serene, if saddened, sunlight, where she could breathe again and be safe
from scourgings. Thank heaven for Sir Basil, was Jack's thought, over that
sharpened ache. And it was with this thought that, for Jack, came the first
sinister whisper, the whisper that, as suddenly as the hiss of a viper
trodden upon in the grass, warned him of the fulfilment, clear, startling,
unimaginable, of all dim presages.

He always remembered, ludicrously, that they had reached the sweet when the
whisper came, and with his recollection of its import there mingled for him
always the incongruous association of sliced peaches and iced cream. He had
just helped himself to this dish when, raising his eyes, he saw Sir Basil
looking at Imogen.

It was, apparently, a calm, a thoughtful look, and as Imogen's eyes were
downcast to her fruit and cream, which she was eating with much appetite,
she did not then meet it. But it was a look a little off guard;--his
perception of that was the first low sibilant that reached him;--it was a
look full of gentle solicitude, full of brooding, absorbed intentness; and
presently, when Imogen, as if aware of it, glanced up and met it, Sir Basil
deeply flushed and turned his eyes away.

This passage was a small enough cause to make one suddenly grow very
chilly; Jack tried to tell himself that, as he mechanically went on eating.
Perhaps Imogen had confided in Sir Basil; perhaps he agreed with her, was
sorry, sympathetic, and embarrassed by a sympathy that set him against the
woman he loved; perhaps he already felt a protecting, paternal affection
for Imogen, just as he himself, in the absurd inversions of their
situation, felt a protecting filial affection for Valerie. But at that
thought--as if the weak links of his chain of possibilities had snapped and
left him at the verge of a chasm, a sudden echo in himself revealed depths
of disastrous analogy. It was revelation that came to Jack, rather than
self-revelation; the instinct that flamed up in him at this moment was like
a torch in a twilit cavern. He might have seen the looming shapes fairly
well without it, but, by its illumination, every uncertainty started out
into vivid light and dark. The fact that his own feeling was so far other
than filial did not detain him. His light was not turned upon himself; of
himself he only knew, in that dazzling moment, that he was armed as her
knight, armed for her battle as a son could not have been; it was upon Sir
Basil, upon Imogen, that the torch-light rested.

He looked presently from them to Valerie. Did she know at all what was her
peril? Had she seen at all what threatened her? Her face told him nothing.
She was talking to Miss Bocock, and her serenity, as of mellow moonlight,
cooled and calmed him a little so that he could wonder whether the peril
was very imminent. Even if the unbelievable had happened;--even if Imogen
had ensnared Sir Basil--Jack's thoughts, in dealing with poor Imogen,
passed in their ruthlessness beyond the facts--even if she had ensnared
him, surely, surely, she could not keep him. The glamour would pass from
him. He would be the first to fight clear of it were he fully aware of what
it signified. For Imogen knew,--the torch-light had revealed that to
Jack,--Imogen knew, he and Imogen, alone, knew. Sir Basil didn't and
Valerie didn't. Single-handed he might save them both. Save them both from
Imogen.

To this strange landing-place had his long voyage, away from old ports, old
landmarks, brought him; and on its rocks he stepped to-night, bound on a
perilous quest in an unknown country. It seemed almost like the coast of
another planet, so desolate, so lonely. But beyond the frowning headlines
he imagined that he would find, far inland, quiet green stretches where he
would rest, and think of her. The landing was bathed in a light sadder, but
sweeter far than the sunlight of other countries. Here he was to fight, not
for himself, but for her.

The first move of strategy was made directly after dinner. He asked Imogen
to come out and see the moonlight with him.

A word to the wise was a word to Mrs. Wake, who safely cornered Miss Bocock
and the Pottses over a game of cards. Jack saw Valerie and Sir Basil
established on the veranda, and then led Imogen away, drew her from her
quarry, along the winding path in the woods.



XXII


Valerie, on sinking into the low wicker chair, and drawing her chuddah
about her shoulders, drawing it closely, although the evening was not cool
had expected to find Jack, or Mrs. Wake, or Miss Bocock presently beside
her.

She had watched, as they wandered, all of them, into the drawing-room, the
hovering, long since familiar to her, of Sir Basil. She had seen that his
eye was as much on Imogen as on herself. She had seen Imogen's eye meet his
with a deep insistence. What it commanded, this eye, Valerie did not know,
but she had grown accustomed to seeing such glances obeyed and she expected
to watch, presently, Imogen's and Sir Basil's departure into the moonlit
woods.

It was, therefore, with surprise that she looked up to see Sir Basil's form
darken against the sky. He asked if he might smoke his cigar beside her,
and the intelligent smile he knew so well rested upon him as he took the
chair next hers.

In the slight pause that followed, both were thinking that, since their
parting in England they had really been very seldom alone together, and in
Sir Basil's mind was a wonder, very disquieting, as to what, really, had
been the understanding under the parting.

He was well aware that any vagueness as to understanding had been owing
entirely to Valerie, well aware that had she not always kept about them the
atmosphere of sunny frankness and gay friendship, he would without doubt
have entangled himself and her in the complications of an avowed devotion,
and that long before her husband's death. For how she had charmed him, this
gay, this deep-hearted friend, descending suddenly on his monotonous life
with a flutter of wings, a flash of color, a liquid pulse of song, like
some strange, bright bird. Charm had grown to affection and to trustful
need, and then to the restlessness and pain and sadness of his hidden
passion. He would have spoken, he knew it very well, were it not that she
had never given him the faintest chance to speak, the faintest excuse for
speaking. She had kept him from any avowal so completely that he might
well, now, wonder if his self-control had not been owing far more to the
intuition of hopelessness than to mere submission. Could she have kept him
so silent, had she been the least little bit in love with him? He had, of
course, been tremendously in love with her--it was bewildering to use the
past tense, indeed--and she, of course, clever creature that she was, must
have known it; but hadn't he been very fatuous in imagining that beneath
her fond, playful friendship lay the possibility of a deeper response?

Since seeing her again, in her effaced, maternal rôle, he had realized that
she was more middle-aged than he had ever thought her, and since coming
to Vermont there had been a new emphasis in this cool, gray quality that
removed her the more from associations with youth and passion. So was he
brought, by the dizzy turn of events, to hoping that loyalty to his own
past love was, for him, the only question, since loyalty to her, in that
respect, had never been expected of him.

Yet, as he took his place beside her and looked at her sitting there in the
golden light, wrapped round in white, very wan and pale, despite her smile,
he felt the strangest, twisted pang of divided desire.

She was wan and she was pale, but she was not cool, she was not gray; he
felt in her, as strongly as in far-off days, the warmth and fragrance, and
knew that it was Imogen who had so cast her into a shadow. Her image had
grown dim on that very first time of seeing Imogen standing as Antigone in
the rapt, hushed theater. That dawn had culminated to-day in the
over-mastering, all-revealing burst of noon, and from its radiance the past
had been hardly visible except as shadow. But now he sat in the moonlight,
the past personified in the quiet presence beside him, and the memory of
noonday itself became mirage-like and uncertain. He almost felt as if he
had been having a wild dream, and that Valerie's glance was the awakening
from it.

To think of Imogen's filial grief and of his promise to her,--a promise
deeply recalled to him by the message of her tear-worn eyes,--to steady his
mind to the task of friendly helpfulness, was to put aside the accompanying
memory of eyes, lips, gold hair on a background of flowering laurel,
was to re-enter, through sane, kind altruism, his old, normal state of
consciousness, and to shut the door on something very sweet and wonderful,
to shut the door--in Imogen's phraseology--on his soul, but, in doing that,
to be loyal to the older hope.

Perhaps, he reflected, looking at Valerie through the silvery circles of
smoke, it depended on her as to whether the door should remain shut on
all the high visions of the last weeks. After all, it had always depended
on her, tremendously, as to where he should find himself. Certainly he
couldn't regard her as the antithesis of soul, though he didn't associate
her with its radiant demonstration, yet he felt that, if she so willed it,
she could lock the door on visions and keep him sanely, safely, sweetly
beside her for the future. If she really did care. Poor Sir Basil, sitting
there in his faint cloud of smoke, while clouds of doubt and perplexity--as
impalpable drifted through his mind, really couldn't for the life of him
have told which solution he most hoped for.

He plunged from the rather humiliating pause of self-contemplation into
the more congenial field of action, with a last swift thought--most
illuminating of all--as he plunged--that in the results of action he would
find his test. If she cared for him--really cared--she would grant his
request; and if she cared, why then, not only reawakened loyalty, but some
very deep acquiescence in his own nature, would keep him beside her, and
to-night would see them as affianced lovers. It would be a pity to have let
one's new-found soul go; but, after all, it was so very new that the pang
of parting would soon be over; that was a good point about middle-age, one
soon got over pangs, soon forgot visions.

"I want to talk to you about something. I'm going to ask you to be kinder
to me, even, than you've ever been,"--so he approached the subject, while
the mingled peace and bitterness of the last thoughts lingered with him.
"I'm going to ask you to let me be very indiscreet, very intimate. It's
about something very personal."

Valerie no longer smiled, but she looked even more gentle and even more
intelligent. "I will be as kind as you can possibly want me to be," she
answered.

"It's about--about Miss Upton."

"About Imogen? Don't you call her Imogen yet? You must."

"I will. I've just begun"; and with this avowal Sir Basil turned away his
eyes for a moment, and even in the moonlight showed his flush. "I had a
long talk with her this afternoon."

"Yes. I supposed that you had. You may be perfectly frank with me," said
Valerie, her eyes on his averted face.

"She was most dreadfully cut up, you know. She came rushing up to the pine
woods--I was smoking there--rushing up as if she were running for her
life--crying,--exhausted,--in a dreadful state."

"Yes. I know."

"Yes, of course you do. What don't you know and what don't you understand,"
said Sir Basil gratefully, his eyes coming back to hers. "So I needn't go
over it all--what she feels about it. I realize very well that you feel for
her as much as I do."

"Oh, yes, you must realize that," said Valerie, a little faintly.

"She was in such a state that one simply had to try to comfort her,--if one
could,--and we have come to be such friends;--so she told me everything."

"Yes. Of course."

"Well that's just it. What I want to ask you is--can't you, for her sake,
quite apart from your own feelings--give in about it?" So spoke Sir Basil,
sitting in the moonlight, the spark of his cigar waning as, in the long
pause that followed, he held it, forgotten, in an expectant, arrested
hand. Her voice had helped and followed him with such gentleness, such
understanding that, though the pause grew, he hardly thought that it needed
the added, "I do beg it of you," that he brought out presently to make her
acquiescence more sure; and his shock of disappointment was sharpened by
surprise to a quick displeasure when, her eyes passing from his face and
resting for long on the shadowy woods, she said in a deadened voice, a
voice strangely lacking in feeling:--"I can't."

He couldn't conceal the disappointment nor, quite, the displeasure. "You
can't? Really you can't?--Forgive me, but don't you think she's a right to
have it written, her father's life, you know, if she feels so deeply about
it?"

"I can't. I will never give my consent," Valerie repeated.

"But, she's breaking her heart over it," Sir Basil deeply protested; and
before the quality of the protestation she paused again, as though to give
herself time to hide something.

"I know that it is hard for her," was all she said at last.

Protestation gave way to wonder, deep and sad. "And for her sake--for _my_
sake, let me put it--you can't let bygones be bygones?--You can't give her
her heart's desire?--My dear friend, it's such a little thing."

"I know that. But it's for his sake that I can't," said Valerie.

Sir Basil, at this, was silent, for a long time. Perplexity mingled with
his displeasure, and the pain of failure, the strangely complex pain.

She did not care for him enough; and she was wrong, and she was fantastic
in her wrongness. For his sake?--the dead husband, whom, after all, she had
abandoned and made unhappy?--Imogen's words came crowding upon him like
a host of warning angel visages. She actually told him that this cruel
thwarting of her child was for the sake of the child's father?

It was strange and pitiful that a woman so sweet, so lovely, should so
grotesquely deceive herself as to her motives for refusing to see bare
justice done.

"May I ask why for him?--I don't understand," he said.

Valerie now turned her eyes once more on his face. With his words, with the
tone, courteous yet cold, in which they were spoken, she recognized a
reached landmark. For a long time she had caught glimpses of it, ominously
glimmering ahead of her, through the sunny mists of hope, across the wide
stretches of trust. And here it was at last, but so suddenly, for all her
presages, that she almost lost her breath for a moment in looking at it and
what it marked. Here, unless she grasped, paths might part. Here, unless
she pleaded, something might be slain. Here, above all, something might
turn its back on her for ever, unless she were disloyal to her own strange
trust.

A good many things had been happening to Valerie of late, but this was
really the worst, and as she looked at the landmark it grew to be the
headstone of a grave, and she saw that under it might lie her youth.

"I don't believe that you could understand, ever," she said at last in an
unaltered voice, a voice, to her own consciousness, like the wrapping of
a shroud about her. "It's only I who could feel it, so deeply as to go so
far. All that I can say to you is this; my husband was a mediocre man, and
a pretentious one. I once loved him. I was always sorry for him. I must
guard him now. I cannot have him exposed. I cannot have his mediocrity and
pretentiousness displayed to the people there are in the world who would
see him as he was, and whose opinion counts."

She knew, as she said it, as she folded the shroud, that he would not be
one of those. Her husband's pretentiousness and mediocrity would not be
apparent to the ingenuous and uncomplex mind beside her. She knew that mind
too well and had watched it, of late, receiving with wondering admiration
from her daughter's lips, echoes of her husband's fatuities. She loved him
for his incapacity to see sad and ugly and foolish facts as she saw them.
She loved his manliness and his childishness. As she had guarded the other,
once loved, man from revealment she would have guarded this one from ironic
and complex visions. But the lack that endeared him to her might lose him
to her. He could never see as she saw and her fidelity to her own light
could in his eyes be but perversity. Besides, she could guess at the
interpretations that loomed in his mind; could guess at what Imogen had
told him; it hardly needed his next words to let her know.

"But was he so mediocre, so pretentious?" he suggested, with the touch
of timidity that comes from a deeper hostility than one can openly
avow.--"Aren't you a little over-critical--through being disappointed in
him--personally? Can you be so sure of your own verdict as all that? Other
people, who loved him--who always loved him I mean--are sure the other way
round," said Sir Basil.

To prove herself faithful, not perverse, whom must she show to him as
unfaithful in very ardor for rightness? In the midst of all the wrenching
of her hidden passion came a pang of maternal pity. Imogen's figure,
bereaved of her father, of her lover, desolate, amazed, rose before her
and, behind it, the hovering, retributory gaze of her husband.

This, then, was what she must pay for having failed, for having wrecked.
The money that she handed out must be her love, her deep love, for this
lover of her fading years, and she knew that she paid the price, for
everything paid the price, above all, for her right to her own complex
fidelity, when she said:

"I am quite sure of my own verdict. I take all the responsibility. I think
other people wrong. And you must think me wrong, if it looks to you like
that."

"But, it's almost impossible for me to think you wrong," said Sir Basil,
feeling that a chill far frostier than the seeming situation warranted had
crept upon them. "Even if you are--why we all are, of course, most of the
time, I suppose. It's only--it's only that I can't see clear. That you
should be so sure of an opinion, a mere opinion, when it hurts someone
else, so abominably;--it's there I don't seem to _see_ you, you know."

"Can't you trust me?" Valerie asked. It was her last chance, her last throw
of the dice. She knew that her heart was suffocating her, with its heavy
throbbing, but to Sir Basil's ear her voice was still the deadened, the
unchanged voice. "Can't you believe in my sincerity when I give you my
reasons? Can't you, knowing me as you do, for so long, believe that I am
more likely to be right, in my judgment of my husband, than--other people?"

Her eyes, dark and deep in the moonlight, were steadily upon him. And now,
probed to the depths, he, too, was conscious of a parting of the ways It
was a choice of loyalties, and he remembered those other eyes, sunlit,
limpid, uplifted, that lifted him, too, with their heavenly, upward gaze.
He stammered; he grew very red; but he, too, was faithful to his own light.

"Of course I know, my dear friend, that you are sincere. But, as to your
being right;--in these things, one can't help seeing crookedly, sometimes,
when personal dislike has entered into a,--a near relationship. One really
can hardly help it, can one?--" he almost pleaded.

Valerie's eyes rested deeply and darkly upon him and, as they rested, he
felt, strangely and irresistibly, that they let him go. Let him go to sink
or to soar--that depended on which vision were the truer.

He knew that after his flush he had become very pale. His cigar had gone
out;--he looked at it with a nervous gesture. The moonlight was cold
and Valerie had turned away her eyes. But as she suddenly rose, he saw,
glancing from his dismal survey of the dead cigar, that she was smiling
again. It was a smile that healed even while it made things hazy to him.
Nothing was hazy to her, he was very sure of that; but she would make
everything as easy as possible to him--even the pain of finding her so
wrong, even the pain of seeing that she didn't care enough, the complex
pain of being set free to seize the new happiness--he was surer of that
than ever.

He, too, got up, grateful, troubled, but warm once more.

The moonlight was bright and golden, and the shadows of the vines that
stirred against the sky wavered all over her as she stood before him. So
strangely did the light and shade move upon her, that it seemed as if she
glided through the ripples of some liquid, mysterious element, not air nor
light nor water, but a magical mingling of the three. He had just time to
feel, vaguely, for everything was blurred, this sense of strangeness and of
sweetness, too, when she gave him her hand.

"Friends, as ever, all the same--are we not?" she said.

Sir Basil, knowing that if he glided it was only because she took him with
her, grasped it tightly, the warm, tangible comfort. "Well _rather_!" he
said with school-boy emphasis.

Be she as wrong as she would, dear creature of light, of shade, of mystery,
it was indeed "well _rather_." Never had he known how much till now.

Holding the hand, he wondered, gazing at her, how much such a friendship,
new yet old, counted for. In revealing it so fully, she had set wide the
door, she had set him free to claim his soul; yet so wonderfully did
they glide that no gross thought of escape touched him for a moment, so
beautifully did she smile that he seemed rather to be gaining something
than to be giving something up.



XXIII


Imogen always looked back to her moonlight walk with Jack as one of the few
occurrences in her life that, at the time, she had not understood. She
understood well enough afterward, with retrospective vexation for her so
ludicrous, yet, after all, so natural innocence. At the time she hadn't
even seen that Jack had jockeyed her out of a communing with Sir Basil.
She had actually thought that Jack might have some word of penitence or
exculpation to say to her after his behavior that morning. As a matter of
fact she could easily have forgiven him had his lack of sympathy been for
her instruments only and not rather for her project. Really, except for
the triumph it had seemed to give to her mother, the humiliation that it
had seemed, vicariously, to inflict upon herself, she hadn't been able to
defend herself from a queer sense of pleasure in witnessing the ejection of
the Pottses. With the tension that had come into the scene they had been in
the way; she, as keenly as Jack, had felt the sense of unfitness, though
she had been willing to endure it, and as keenly as Jack she had felt Mr.
Potts as insufferably presuming. She had been glad that his presumption
should wreak punishment upon her mother, but glad, too, that when the
weapon had served its purpose, it should be removed.

So her feelings toward Jack, as he led her down the woodland path, where,
not so many days ago--but how far off they seemed--she had led Sir Basil,
were not so bitter as they might have been. Bitterness was in abeyance. She
waited to hear what he might have to say for himself and about her--about
this new disaster that had befallen her, and with the thought of the
retribution that she held, almost, within her grasp, came something of a
softening to sadness and regret over Jack. In spite of that glorious moment
of the pine woods, with its wide vistas into the future, some torn fiber of
her heart would go on aching when she thought of Jack and his lost love;
and when he led her away among the woods, thick with trembling lights and
shadows, she really, for a little while, expected to hear him say that,
sympathize as he might with her mother, reprobate as he might her own
attitude toward her, there were needs in him deeper than sympathies or
blame; she almost expected him to tell her that, above all, he loved her
and couldn't get on without her. Else why had he asked her to come and see
the moonlight in the woods?

A vagueness hovered for her over her own attitude in case of such an
avowal, a vagueness connected with the veil that still hung between her
unavowed lover and herself, and even as she walked away with Jack she felt
a mingled pang of eagerness for what he might have to say to her and of
anxiety for what, more than his petition on her behalf, Sir Basil might be
drawn into saying to her mother on the veranda. She didn't crudely tell
herself that she would not quite abandon Jack until the veil were drawn
aside and triumph securely attained; she only saw herself, as far as she
saw herself at all, as pausing between two choices, pausing to weigh which
was the greater of the appealing needs and which the deeper of the
proffered loves. She knew that the balance inclined to Sir Basil's side,
but she saw herself, for this evening, sadly listening, but withholding, in
its full definiteness, the sad rejection of Jack's tardy appeal.

With this background of interpretation it was, therefore, with a growing
perplexity that she heard Jack, beside her, or a little before, so that
he might hold back the dewy branches from her way, talk on persistently,
fluently, cheerfully, in just the same manner, with the same alert voice
and pleasant, though watchful, eye, that he had talked at dinner. Her
mother might have been walking beside them for all the difference there
was. Jack, the shy, the abrupt, the often awkward, seemed infected with her
mother's social skill. The moonlit woods were as much a mere background for
maneuvers as the candle-lit dinner-table had been. Not a word of the
morning's disaster; not a word of sympathy or inquiry; not a word of
self-defence or self-exposition; not even a word of expostulation or
reproach.

As for entreaty, tenderness, the drawing near once more, the drop to loving
need after the climax of alienation, she saw, by degrees, how illusory
had been any such imagining; she saw at last, with a sharpness that
queerly chilled her blood, that Jack was abdicating the lover's rôle more
decisively than even before. Verbal definiteness left hazes of possibility
compared to this dreadfully competent reticence. It was more than evasion,
more than reticence, more than abdication that she felt in Jack; it was a
deep hostility, it was the steady burning of that flame that she had seen
in his eye that morning when she had told her mother that she was cruel
and shallow and selfish. This was an enemy who walked beside her and,
after perplexity, after the folly of soft imaginings, the folly of having
allowed her heart to yearn over him a little, and, perhaps, over herself,
indignation rushed upon her, and humiliation, and then the passionate
longing for vengeance.

He thought himself very cool and competent, this skilful Jack, leading
her down in the illumined, dewy woods, talking on and on, talking--the
fool--for so, with a bitter smile, her inner commentary dubbed him--of
Manet, of Monet, of Whistler, of the decomposition of light, the vibration
of color.

From the heat of fierce anger Imogen reached a contemptuous coolness. She
made no attempt to stay his volubility; she answered, quietly, accurately,
with chill interest, all he said. They might really have met for the first
time at dinner that night, were it not that Jack's competence was a little
feverish, were it not that her own courtesy was a little edged. But the
swing from tender sadness to perplexity, to fury, to contempt, was so
violent that not until they turned to retrace their steps did a very
pertinent question begin to make itself felt. It made itself felt with the
sudden leap to fear of that underlying anxiety as to what was happening on
the veranda, and the fear lit the question with a lurid, though, as yet,
not a revealing flicker. For why had he done it? That was what she asked
herself as they faced the moonlight and saw the woods all dark on a
background of mystic gold. What fatuous complacency had made him take so
much trouble just to show her how little he cared for what she might be
feeling, for what he had himself once felt?

Imogen pondered, striding before him with her long, light step, urged now
by the inner pressure of fear as to the exchange that her absence had made
possible between her mother and Sir Basil. It had been foolish of her
to leave him for so long, exposed and helpless. Instinctively her step
hastened as she went and, Jack following closely, they almost ran at last,
silent and breathing quickly. Imogen had, indeed, the uncanny sensation of
being pursued, tracked, kept in sight by her follower. From the last thin
screen of branches she emerged, finally, into the grassy clearing.

There was a flicker of white on the veranda. In the shadow of the creepers
stood two figures, clasping hands. Her mother and Sir Basil.

Fear beat suddenly, suffocatingly, in Imogen's throat. A tide of
humiliation, like the towering of a gigantic wave above her head, seemed to
rise and encompass her round about. She had counted too soon upon gladness,
upon vengeance. Everything was stripped from her, if--if Jack and her
mother had succeeded. With lightning-like rapidity her mind grasped its
suspicion. She looked back at Jack. His eyes, too, were fixed on the
veranda, and suspicion was struck to certainty by what she read in them. He
was tense; he was white; he was triumphant. Too soon triumphant! In another
moment the imminence of her terror passed by. The clasp was not that of a
plighting. It was over; it denoted some lesser compact, one that meant,
perhaps, success for her almost forgotten hope. But in Jack's eye she had
read what was her danger.

Imogen paused but for a moment to draw the breath of a mingled relief
and realization. Her knowledge was the only weapon left in her hand, and
strength, safety, the mere semblance of dignity, lay in its concealment. If
he guessed that Sir Basil needed guarding, he should never guess that she
did. Already her headlong speed might have jeopardized her secret.

"What a pretty setting for our elderly lovers, isn't it?" she said.

That her voice should slightly tremble was only natural; he must know that
even from full unconsciousness such a speech must be for her a forced and
painful one.

Jack looked her full in the eye, as steadily as she looked at him.

"Isn't it?" he said.



XXIV


She had seen through him and she continued to see through him.

She had little opportunity for more than this passive part on the next day,
a day of goings and comings, when the Pottses went, and Rose, Mary, and
Eddy, arrived.

He was guarding her mother's lover for her, guarding him from the
allurement of her own young loveliness; that was the way Jack saw it. He
was very skilful, very competent, she had to own that as she watched him;
but he was not quite so omniscient as he imagined himself to be, for he
did not know that she saw. That was Imogen's one clue in those two or
three days of fear and confusion, days when, actually, Jack did succeed in
keeping her and Sir Basil apart. And she must make no endeavor to thwart
his watchfulness; she must yield with apparent unconsciousness to his
combinations, combinations that always separated her and Sir Basil; she
must see him drive off with Sir Basil to meet the new-comers; must see him
lead Sir Basil away with himself and Eddy for a masculine smoke and talk;
must see him, after dinner, fix them all, irrevocably, at bridge for the
rest of the evening,--and not stir a finger;--for he did not know that she
saw and he did not know that she, as well as Sir Basil, needed guarding. It
was here that Imogen's intuition failed her, and that her blindness made
Jack's task the easier.

Imogen, in these days, had little time for self-observation. She seemed
living in some dark, fierce region of her nature, unknown to her till now,
where she found only fear and fury and the deep determination not to be
defeated and bereft. So supremely real were will and instinct, that, seen
from their dominion, conscience, reason, all the spiritual tests she had
lived by, looked like far, pale clouds floating over some somber, burning
landscape, where, among flames and darkness, she was running for her
life. Reason, conscience, were still with her, but turned to the task of
self-preservation. "He is mine. I know it. I felt it. They shall not take
him from me. It is my right, my duty, to keep him, for he is all that I
have left in life." The last veil descended upon her soul when, her frosty
young nature fired by the fierceness of her resolution, she felt herself to
be passionately in love with Sir Basil.

On the third day, the third day of her _vita nuova_--so she named it--Jack
had organized a picnic. They were to drive ten miles to a mountain lake
among pine woods, and, thrilling all through with rage, Imogen saw Sir
Basil safely maneuvered into the carriage with her mother, Rose, and Eddy,
while she was assigned to Jack, Miss Bocock, and Mary.

She heard herself talk sweetly and fluently during the long, sunny, breezy
drive, heard Jack answering and assenting with a fluency, a sweetness as
apt. Mary was very silent, but Miss Bocock, no doubt, found nothing amiss
in the tone of their interchange. Arrived at the beautiful spot fixed on,
sunlight drifting over glades of fern, the shadowy woods encircling a lake
of blue and silver, she could say, with just the right emphasis of helpless
admiration: "Wonderful--wonderful;"--could quote a line of Wordsworth,
while her eye passed over the figure of Sir Basil, talking to Rose at a
little distance, and over Jack's figure, near at hand.

Jack and Eddy had driven, and the moment came when they were occupied with
their horses. She joined the others, and, presently, she was able to draw
Sir Basil a little aside, and then still a little further, until, among the
rosy aisles, she had him to herself. Stooping to gather a tiny cone she
said to him in a low voice:--"Well?--well?--What did she say?"

Sir Basil, too, lowered his voice:--"I've wanted a chance to tell you about
it. My dear child, I'm so very sorry, but I've been a failure. She won't
hear of it. You'll have to give it up."

"She utterly refused?" How far this matter of her father was from her
thoughts--as far as the pale clouds above the fierce, dark landscape.

"Utterly."

"You asked for your sake, as well as for mine?"

"I asked for both our sakes."

"And," still stooping, her face hidden from him, she pierced to find the
significance of that moonlight hand-clasp,--"and--she made you agree with
her?"

"Agree with, her?--I was most dreadfully disappointed, and I had to tell
her so.--How could I agree with her?"

"She might have made you."

"She didn't make me;--didn't try to, I'm bound to say."

"But,"--her voice breathed up to him now with a new gentleness,--a
gentleness that, he well might think, covered heart-brokenness,--"but--you
haven't quarreled with her,--on my account? I couldn't bear her to
lose things, on my account. She thinks of you as a friend--values your
friendship;--I know it,--I am sure of it,--even though she would not do
this for you. Some hatreds are too deep to yield to any appeal; but it is
friendship I know;--and I love her--in spite of everything."

She had murmured on and on, parting the ferns with her delicate hand,
finding here and there a little cone, and as Sir Basil looked down at the
golden hair, the pure line of the cheek, a great wave of thanksgiving for
the surety of his freedom rose in him.

"Dear, sweet child," he said, "this is just what I would expect of you. But
don't let that thought trouble you for one moment. I do think her wrong,
but we are perhaps better friends than ever. You and I will always care for
her"--Sir Basil's voice faltered a little as, to himself, the significance
of these last words was borne in upon him, and Imogen, hearing the falter,
rose, feeling that she must see as well as hear.

And as she faced him they heard Jack's cheery call:

"Sir Basil--I say, Sir Basil!--You are wanted. You must help with the
hampers."

Imogen controlled every least sign of exasperation; it was the easier,
since she had gained something from this snatched interview. Her mother had
in no way harmed her in Sir Basil's eyes, and this avowal of friendship
might include an abdication of nearer claims. And so she walked back beside
him--telling him that her cones were for her little cripples. "You are
always thinking about some one else's happiness," said Sir Basil--with
a tranquillity less feigned than it had been of late. Nothing was lost,
nothing really desperate yet. But, during the rest of the afternoon, while
they made tea, spread viands, sat about on the moss and rocks laughing,
talking, eating, the sense of risk did not leave her. Nothing was lost,
yet, but it was just possible that what she had, in her folly, expected to
happen the other night to her and Jack, might really happen to Sir Basil
and her mother; in the extremity of alienation they might find the depths
of need. He thought her wrong, but he also thought her charming.

Sitting a little above them all, on a higher rock, watching them while
seeming not to watch, she felt that her sense of peril strangely isolated
her from the thoughtless group. She could guess at nothing from her
mother's face. She had not spoken with her mother since the day of
the disaster--and of the dawn. It was probable that, like her own sad
benignity, her mother's placidity was nothing but a veil, but she could not
believe that it veiled a sense of peril. Under her white straw hat, with
broad black ribbons tying beneath the chin, it was very pale--but that was
usual of late--and very worn, too, as it should be; but it was more full
of charm than it had any right to be. Her mother--oh! despite pallor and
fading--was a woman to be loved; and that she believed herself a woman
loved, Imogen, with a deep stirring of indignation and antagonism,
suspected. Yes, she counted upon Sir Basil, of that Imogen was sure,
but what she couldn't make out was whether her mother guessed that her
confidence was threatened. Did she at all see where Sir Basil's heart had
turned, as Jack had seen? Was her mother, too, capable of Jack's maneuvers?

From her mother she looked at Sir Basil, looked with eyes marvelously
serene. He lounged delightfully. His clothes were delightfully right; they
seemed as much a part of his personality as the cones were of the pines,
the ferns of the long glades. Rightness--exquisite, unconscious rightness,
was what he expressed. Not the rightness of warfare and effort that Imogen
believed in and stood for, but a rightness that had come to him as a gift,
not as a conquest, just as the cones had come to the pine-trees. The way
he tilted his Panama hat over his eyes so that only his chin and crisply
twisted mustache were unshadowed, the way in which he held his cigarette in
a hand so brown that the gold of the seal ring upon it looked pale, even
the way in which he wagged, now and then, his foot in its shapely tan
shoe,--were all as delightful as his limpid smile up at her mother, as his
voice, deep, decisive, and limpid, too.

Imogen was not aware of these appreciations in herself as she watched him
with that serene covertness, not at all aware that her senses were lending
her a hand in her struggle for possession and ascendancy, and giving to
her hold on the new and threatened belonging a peculiar tenacity. But she
did tell herself, again and again, with pride and pain, that this at last
was love, a love that justified anything, and that cast all lesser things
aside. And, with this thought of rejection, Imogen found her eyes turning
to Jack. She looked at Jack as serenely as she had at Sir Basil, and at him
she could trust herself to look more fixedly.

Jack's rightnesses were not a bit like those of nature. He was hesitant,
unfinished, beside Sir Basil. His voice was meager, his form was meager,
his very glance lacked the full, untroubled assurance of the other's. As
for his clothes, with a sly little pleasure Imogen noted, point by point,
how they just missed easy perfection. Very certainly this man who had
failed her was a trophy not comparable to the man who now cared. She
told herself that very often, emphasizing the unfavorable contrast. For,
strangely enough, it was now, at the full distance of her separation
from Jack, an irrevocable separation, that she needed the support of
such emphasis. In Jack's absent stare at the lake, his nervous features
composed to momentary unconsciousness, she could but feel a quality that,
helplessly, she must appreciate. There was in the young man's face a
purity, a bravery, a capacity of subtle spiritual choice that made it,
essentially, one of the most civilized she had ever known. Sir Basil's
brain, if it came to comparison, lacked one or two convolutions that Jack's
undoubtedly possessed.

And, appreciating the lost lover, as, through her own sharpness of
intelligence she was bound to do, poor Imogen knew again the twisted pang
of divided desire. Was it the higher that she had lost, or the higher
that she so strangely struggled for? Her eyes, turning again on Sir
Basil, stayed themselves on the assurances of his charm, his ease,
his rightnesses; but the worst bitterness of all lurked under these
consolations; for, though one was lost, the other was not securely gained.

Imogen, that night, made another dash for the open, only, again, to be
foiled. Her mother and Miss Bocock were safely on the veranda in the
moonlight, the others safely talking in the drawing-room; Sir Basil, only,
was not to be seen, and Imogen presently detected the spark of his cigar
wandering among the flower-borders. She could venture on boldness, though
she skirted about the house to join him. What if Jack did see them
together? It was only natural that, if she were unconscious, she should now
and then seek out her paternal friend. But hardly had she emerged from the
shadow of the house, hardly had Sir Basil become aware of her approach,
when, with laughter and chattering outcries the whole intolerable horde
was upon her. It was Rose who voiced the associated proposal, a moonlight
ramble; it was Rose who seized upon Sir Basil with her hateful air of
indifferent yet assured coquetry; but Imogen guessed that she was a tool,
even if an ignorant one, in the hands of Jack. Miss Bocock and her mother
had not joined them and, in a last desperate hope, Imogen said,--"Mama,
too, and Miss Bocock,--we mustn't leave them. Sir Basil, won't you go and
fetch them?" And then, Sir Basil detached from Rose, on his way, she
murmured,--"I must see that she doesn't forget her shawl," and darted after
him. Once more get him to herself and, in the obscurity of the woods, they
might elude the others yet. But, as they approached the veranda, she found
that Jack was beside them.

Neither Valerie nor Miss Bocock cared to join the expedition; and Valerie,
cryptically, for her daughter's understanding, said: "Do you really want
more scenery, Sir Basil? You and Imogen had much better keep us company
here. We have earned a lazy evening."

"Oh, no, but Rose has claimed Sir Basil as her cavalier," Jack,
astonishingly, cut in. "It's all her idea, so that she could have a talk
with him. Do you come, too," Jack urged. "It's only a little walk and the
moonlight is wonderful among the woods."

Mrs. Upton's eye rested fixedly upon him for a moment. Imogen saw that, but
could not know whether her mother shared her own astonishment for Jack's
development or whether the look were of the nature of an interchange. She
shook her head, however.

"No, thanks, I am too tired. Be sure and show Sir Basil the view from the
rustic seat, Imogen. And, oh, Imogen, do you and Sir Basil go to the pantry
and ask Selma for some cakes. You will like something to eat."

"I'll come, too," said Jack cheerfully. "I must get my stick."

And thus it was that Sir Basil remained standing beside Mrs. Upton, while
the young couple, in absolute silence, accomplished their mission.

Imogen only wondered, as they went, side by side, swiftly, round to the
pantry, if Jack did not hear the deep, indignant breaths she vainly
tried to master. The rest of the evening repeated the indignities of the
afternoon. She was watched, guarded, baffled. Proudly she relinquished
every attempt to checkmate; and her mother was not there; for the moment
there was no anxiety on that score. But the sense of deep breathing did not
leave her. What _wouldn't_ Jack do? She was quite sure that he would lie,
if, technically, he had not lied already. The stick had been in the hall
near the pantry. If it hadn't;--well, with her consciousness of whistling
speed, of a neck-to-neck race, she really would not have had time for a
pause of wonder and condemnation.



XXV


She woke next morning to that fierce consciousness of a race. And the goal
must now be near, defeat or victory imminent.

It was early and she dressed quickly. She couldn't boldly rap at Sir
Basil's door and call him to join her in the garden for a dewy walk before
breakfast, for Jack's was the room next his; but, outside, as she drifted
back and forth over the lawn, in full view of his window, she sang to
herself, so that he could hear, sang sweetly, loudly, sadly, a strain of
Wagner. It happened, indeed, to be the Pilgrim's March from Tannhäuser that
she fixed upon for her _aubade_. Jack would never suspect such singing, and
Sir Basil must surely seize its opportunity. But he did not appear. She
surmised that he was not yet up and that it might be wiser to wait for him
in the dining-room.

As she crossed the veranda she heard voices around the corner, a snatch of
talk from two other early risers sitting outside the drawing-room windows.
Mary and Rose; she placed them, as she paused.

"But Jack himself often talks in just that way," Mary was saying, pained it
was evident, and puzzled, too, by some imputation, that she hadn't been
able to deny.

"Yes, dear old Jack," Rose rejoined; "he does talk in a very tiresome way
sometimes; so do you, Mary my darling;--you are all tarred with the same
solemn brush; but, you see, it's just that; one may talk like a prig and
yet not be one. Jack, behind the big words, means them all, is them all,
really. Whereas Imogen;--why she's little--little--little. Even Jack has
found that out at last."

"Rose! Rose! Don't--It's not true. I can't believe it! I won't believe it!"
broke from Mary. Her chair was pushed back impetuously, and Imogen darted
into the dining-room and from there into the hall to find herself, at last,
face to face with Sir Basil.

"I hoped I'd find you. I heard you singing in the garden. What is that
thing,--Gounod, isn't it? Do let's have a turn in the garden."

But even as he said it, holding her hand, the fatal chink of the
approaching breakfast tray told them that the opportunity had come too
late. Rose and Mary already were greeting them, Jack and Miss Bocock called
morning wishes from above.

Valerie was a late riser; and Imogen, behind the tea-pot and coffee,
was always conscious of offering a crisp and charming contrast to lax
self-indulgence. But this morning, as they all hemmed her in, fixed her
in her rightful place, her cheeks irrepressibly burned with vexation and
disappointment. The overheard insolence, too, had been like a sudden slap.
She mastered herself sufficiently to kiss Mary's cheek and to take Rose's
hand with a gaze of pure unconsciousness, a gaze that should have been as a
coal of fire laid upon her venomous head.

But Rose showed no symptom of scorching. She trailed to her place, in a
morning-gown all lace and ribbons, smiling nonchalantly at Jack and saucily
at Sir Basil, with whom she had established relations of chaffing coquetry;
she told Imogen to remember that she liked her coffee half-and-half with a
lot of cream and three lumps of sugar. She looked as guiltless as poor Mary
looked guilty.

"Eddy's late as usual, I suppose," she said.

"He inherits laziness from mama," Imogen smiled, putting in four lumps, a
trivial vengeance she could not resist.

"Some of her charms he has inherited, it's true." Rose, in the absence of
her worshiped hostess gave herself extreme license in guileless prods and
thrusts. "I only wish he had inherited more. Here you are, Eddy, after
all, falsifying my hopes of you. We are talking about your hereditary good
points, Eddy;--in what others, except morning laziness, do you resemble
your mother?"

"Well, I hate strings of milk in my coffee," said Eddy, bending over his
sister to put a perfunctory kiss upon her brow, "and as I observe one in
that cup I hope it's not intended for me. Imogen, why won't you use the
strainer?"

With admirable patience, as if humoring two spoiled children, Imogen filled
another cup with greater care.

"Mama feels just as I do about strings in coffee," said Eddy, bearing away
his cup. "We are both of us very highly organized."

"You mustn't be over-sensitive, you know," said Imogen, "else you will
unfit yourself for life. There are so many strings in one's coffee in
life."

"The fit avoid them," said Eddy, "as I do."

"You inherit that, too, from mama," said Imogen, "the avoidance of
difficulties. Do try some of our pop-overs, Miss Bocock; it's a national
dish."

"What are you going to do this morning, Imogen?" Jack asked, and she felt
that his eye braved hers. "It's your Girls' Club morning, isn't it? That
will do beautifully for you, Miss Bocock. I've been telling Miss Bocock
about it; she is very much interested."

"Very much indeed. I am on the committee of such a club in England," said
Miss Bocock; "I should like to go over it with you."

Imogen smiled assent, while inwardly she muttered "Snake!" Her morning,
already, was done for, unless, indeed, she could annex Sir Basil as a third
to the party and, with him, evade Miss Bocock for a few brief moments. But
brief moments could do nothing for them. They needed long sunny or moonlit
solitudes.

"We must be alone together, under the stars, for our souls to _see_,"
Imogen said to herself, while she poured the coffee, while she met Jack's
eye, while, beneath this highest thought, the lesser comment of "Snake!"
made itself heard.

"What's become of that interesting girl who had the rival club, Imogen?"
Rose asked. "The one you squashed."

"We make her very welcome when she comes to ours." Imogen did not descend
to self-exculpation. She spoke gently and gravely, casting only a glance at
Sir Basil, as if calling him to witness her pained magnanimity.

"It would be fun, you know, to help her to start a new one," said
Rose;--"something rebellious and anarchic. Will you help me if I do, Eddy?
Come, let's sow discord in Imogen's Eden, like a couple of serpents."

Reptilian analogies seemed uppermost this morning; Imogen felt their
fitness while, smiling on, she answered: "I don't think that mere
rebellion--not only against Eden but against the Tree of Knowledge as
well--would carry you far, Rose. Your membership would be of three--Mattie
and the two serpents."

Sir Basil laughed out at the retort.

"You evidently don't know the club and all those delightful young women,"
he said to Rose.

"Oh, yes, indeed I do. Every one sees Imogen's clubs. I don't think them
delightful. Women in crowds are always horrid. We are only tolerable in
isolation."

"You hand over to us, then,"--it was Jack who spoke, and with his usual
impatience when bending to Rose's folly,--"all the civic virtues, all the
virtues of fraternity?"

"With pleasure; they are becoming to nobody, for that matter. But I'm quite
sure that men are brothers. Women never are sisters, however, unless,
sometimes, we are sisters to you," Rose added demurely, at which Sir Basil
gave a loud laugh.

Imogen, though incensed, was willing that on this low ground of silly
flippancy Rose should make her little triumphs. She kept her smile. "I
don't think that those of us who are capable of another sisterhood will
agree with you," and her smile turned on Mary another coal of fire, for
she suspected Mary of apostasy. "I don't think that the women whose aim
in life is--well--to make brothers of men in Rose's sense, can understand
sisterhood at all, as, for instance, Mary and I do."

"Oh, you and Mary!"--Rose tapped her eggshell and salted her egg. "That's
not sisterhood;--that's prophetess and proselyte. You're an anarchist
to the bone, Imogen, like the rest of us;--you couldn't bear to share
anything--It's like children playing games:--If I can't be the driver, I
won't play horses."

"Oh, Rose!" came in distressed tones from Mary; but Imogen did not flinch
from her serenity.

Outside on the veranda, where they all wandered after breakfast, her
moment came at last. Jack had walked away with Mary; Miss Bocock, with a
newspaper, stood in the shade at a little distance. Rose and Eddy were
wandering among the flowers.

Imogen knew, as she found herself alone with Sir Basil, that the impulse
that rose in her was the crude one of simply snatching. She controlled its
demonstration so that only a certain breathlessness was in her voice, a
certain brilliancy in her eye, as she said to him, rapidly:--

"He will never let you see me! Never!"

"He? Who?--What do you mean?" Sir Basil, startled, stared at her.

"Jack! Jack! Haven't you noticed?"

"Oh, I see. Yes, I see." His glance became illuminated. In a voice as low
as her own he asked: "What does it mean?--I never can get a word with
you. He's always there. He's very devoted to you, I know; but, I supposed
that--well, that his chance was over."

His hesitation, the appeal of his glance, were lightning-flashes of
assurance for Imogen, opening her path for her.

"It is over;--it is over;--but it's false that he is devoted to me," she
whispered. "He hates me. He is my enemy."

"Oh, I say!" gasped Sir Basil.

"And since he failed to win me--Don't you see--It's through sheer
spite--sheer hatred."

Her brilliant eyes were on him and a further "Oh!" came from Sir Basil as
he received this long ray of illumination. And it was so dazzling, although
Imogen, after her speech, had cast down her eyes, revealing nothing more,
that he murmured hastily:--"Can't I see you, Imogen, alone;--can't you
arrange it in some way?"

Imogen's eyes were still cast down, while, the purpose that was like a
possession, once attained, her thoughts rushed in, accused, exculpated, a
wild confusion that, in another moment had built for her self-respect the
shelter of a theory that, really, quite solidly sustained the statement so
astounding to herself when it had risen to her lips. Hatred, spite; yes,
these were motives, too, in Jack's treachery; she hadn't spoken falsely,
though it had been with the blindness of the overmastering purpose. And her
dignity was untarnished in Sir Basil's eyes, for, she had seen it at last,
her path was open; she had only to enter it.

Her heart seemed to flutter in her throat as she said on the lowest,
most incisive note: "Yes,--I, too, want to see you, Sir Basil. I am so
lonely;--you are the only one who cares, who understands, who is near me.
There must be real truth between us. This morning--he has prevented that.
But to-night, after we have all gone up-stairs, come out again, by the
little door at the back, and meet me--meet me--" her voice wavered
a little, "at the rustic bench, up in the woods, where we went last
night. There we can talk." And catching suddenly at all the nobility, so
threatened in her own eyes, remembering her love for him, her great love,
and his need, his great need, of her, she smiled deeply, proudly at him and
said:

"We will see each other, at last, and each other's truth, under God's
stars."



XXVI


Jack had drawn Mary aside, around the sunny veranda, and, out of ear-shot
of everybody, a curious intentness in his demeanor, he asked her to run
up to Mrs. Upton's room and ask her if she wouldn't take a drive with him
that morning. Since the Uptons' impoverishment their little stable was,
perforce, empty; and it was Jack who ordered the buggy from the village and
treated the company in turn to daily drives.

Mary departed on her errand, hearing Jack telephoning to the livery-stable
as she went up-stairs.

She had to own to herself that the charm had grown on her, and the fact of
her increasing fondness for Imogen's mother made the clearer to her all the
new, vague pain in regard to Imogen. Imogen, to Mary's delicate perception
of moral atmosphere, was different; she had felt it from the moment of her
arrival. No one had as yet enlightened her as to the Potts's catastrophe,
but even by its interpretation she would have found the change hard to
understand. Perhaps it was merely that she, Mary, was selfish and felt
herself to be of less importance to Imogen. Mary was always conscious
of relief when she could fix responsibility upon herself, and she was
adjusting all sorts of burdens on her conscience as she knocked at Mrs.
Upton's door.

The post had just arrived, and Valerie, standing near her dressing-table,
was reading her letters as Mary came in. Mary had never so helplessly felt
the sense of charm as this morning.

She wore a long white dressing-gown, of frilled lawn, tied with black
ribbons at throat and wrists. Her abundant chestnut hair, delicately veined
with white, was braided into two broad plaits that hung below her waist,
and her face, curiously childlike so seen, was framed in the banded masses.
Mary could suddenly see what she had looked like as a little girl. So
moved was she by the charm that, Puritan as she was, she found herself
involuntarily saying:--"Oh, Mrs. Upton, what beautiful hair you have."

"It is nice, isn't it?" said Valerie, looking more than ever like a child,
a pleased child; "I love my hair."

Mary had taken one braid and was crunching it softly, like spun silk, in
her hand. She couldn't help laughing out at the happy acceptance of her
admiring speech; the charm was about her; she understood; it wasn't vanity,
but something flower-like.

"You have heaps, too," said Valerie.

"Oh, but it's sand-colored. And I do it so horribly. It is so heavy and
pulls back so."

"I know; that's the difficulty with heaps of hair. But I had a very clever
maid, and she taught me how to manage it. Sand-color is a lovely color as a
background to the face, you know."

Valerie rarely made personal remarks and rarely paid compliments. She had
none of the winning allurements of the siren; Mary had realized that and
was now realizing that genuine interest, even if reticent, may be the most
fragrant of compliments.

"I wish you would let me show you how to do it," Valerie added.

Mary blushed. There had always been to her, in her ruthless hair-dressing,
an element of severe candor, the recognition of charmlessness, a sort
of homage paid to wholesome if bitter fact. Mrs. Upton was not, in her
flower-like satisfaction, one bit vain; but Mary suspected herself of
feeling a real thrill of tempted vanity. The form of the temptation was,
however, too sweet to be rejected, and Mrs. Upton's hair was so simply
done, too, though, she suspected, done with a guileful simplicity. It
wouldn't look vain to do it like that; but, on the other hand, it would
probably take three times as long to do; there was always the question of
one's right to employ precious moments in personal adornment. "How kind
of you," she murmured. "I am so stupid though. Could I really learn? And
wouldn't it take up a good deal of my time every morning?"

Valerie smiled. "Well, it's a nice way of spending one's time, don't you
think?"

This was, somehow, quite unanswerable, and Mary had never thought of it in
that light. She sat down before Valerie's pretty, tipped mirror and looked
with some excitement at the rows of glittering toilet utensils set out
before her. She was sure that Mrs. Upton found it nice to spend a great
deal of time before her mirror.

"It is so kind of you," she repeated. "And it will be so interesting to see
how you do it. And, oh, I am forgetting the thing I came for--how stupid,
how wrong of me. It's a message from Jack. He wants to know if you will
drive with him."

"And what are all the plans for to-day?" Mrs. Upton asked irrelevantly,
unpinning the clustered knobs at the back of Mary's head and softly shaking
out the stringently twisted locks as she uncoiled them.

"It is _so_ kind of you;--but oughtn't I to take Jack his answer first?"

"The answer will wait. He has his letters to see to now. What are they all
doing?"

"Well, let me see; Rose is in the hammock and Eddy is talking to her.
Imogen is going to take Miss Bocock to see her club."

"Oh, it is Imogen's club day, is it? She asked Miss Bocock?"

"Miss Bocock asked her, or, rather, Jack told her that he had been telling
Miss Bocock about it; it was Jack who asked. He knew, of course, that she
would be interested in it;--a big, fine person like Miss Bocock would be
bound to be."

"Um," Valerie seemed vaguely to consider as she passed the comb down the
long tresses. "I don't think that I can let Imogen carry off Miss
Bocock;--Miss Bocock can go to the club another day; I want to do some
gardening with her this morning; she's a very clever gardener, did you
know?--So I shall be selfish. Imogen can take Sir Basil; he likes walks."

Mrs. Upton was now brushing, and very dexterously; but Mary, glancing at
her with a little anxiety for the avowed selfishness, fancied that she was
not thinking much about the hair. Mary could not quite interpret the change
she felt in the lovely face. Something hard, something controlled was
there.

"But Jack?"--she questioned.

"Well, Jack can take you on the drive. You and he have seen very little of
each other since you've come; such old friends as you are, too."

"Yes, we are," said Mary, gazing abstractedly at her own face, now, in the
mirror, and forgetting both her own transformation and the face that bent
above her. A familiar cloud of pain gathered within her and, suddenly, she
found herself bursting out with:--"Oh, Mrs. Upton--I am so unhappy about
Jack!"

Valerie, in the mirror, gave her a keen, quick glance. "I am, too, Mary,"
she said.

Mary, at this, turned in her chair to look up at her:--"You see, you feel
it, too!"

"That _he_ is unhappy? Yes, I see and feel it."

"And you care;--I am sure that you care."

"I care very much. I love Jack very much."

Mary seized her hand and tears filled her eyes. "Oh, you _are_ a dear!--One
must love him when one really knows him, mustn't one?--Mrs. Upton, I've
known Jack all my life and he is simply one of the noblest, deepest,
realest people in the whole world."

"I am sure of that."

"Well, then, can't you help him?" Mary cried.

"How can I help him?--In what way?" Valerie asked, her grave smile fading.

"With Imogen. It's that, you see, their alienation, that's breaking his
heart.

"Of course you've seen it all more clearly than I have," Mary went on,
her hair about her face, her hand clasping Valerie's;--"Of course you
understand it, and everything that has happened to them. I love Imogen,
too--please don't doubt that;--but, but, I can't but feel that it's _her_
mistake, _her_ blindness that has been the cause. She couldn't accept it,
you see, that he should--stand for a new thing, and be loyal to the old
thing at the same time."

Valerie, now, had sunken into a chair near Mary's, and one hand was still
in Mary's hand, and in the other she still held a tress of Mary's hair. She
looked down at this tress while she said:--"But Imogen was right, quite
right. He couldn't stand for the new thing and be loyal to the old."

Mary's eyes widened: "You mean,--Mrs. Upton?--"

"Just what you do. That _I_ am the cause."

She raised her eyes to Mary's and the girl became scarlet.

"Oh,--you do see it all," she breathed.

"All, all, Mary. To Imogen I stand, I must stand, for the wrong; to
Jack--though he can't think of me very well as 'standing' for anything,
I'm not altogether in that category. So that his championship of me judges
him in Imogen's eyes. Imogen has had a great deal to bear. Have you heard
of the last thing? She has not told you? I have refused my consent to her
having a biography of her father written. She had set her heart on it."

"Oh, I hadn't heard anything. You wouldn't consent? Oh, poor Imogen!"

"It is, poor Imogen. In this, too, she has found no sympathy in Jack. All
his sympathy is with me. It has been the end, for both of them. And it is
inevitable, Mary."

"Oh, Mrs. Upton, what can I say--what can I think?--I don't seem to be able
to see who is right and who is wrong!" Mary covered the confusion of her
thoughts by burying her face in her hands.

"No; one can't see. That's what one finds out."

"Of course, I have always thought Mr. Upton a very wonderful person," Mary
murmured from behind her hands, her Puritan instinct warning her that
now, when it gave her such pain, was the time above all others for a
"testifying," a "bearing witness."--"But I know that Jack never felt about
that as I did. Of course I, too, think that the biography ought to be
written."

Valerie was silent, and her silence, Mary felt, was definitive.

She wouldn't explain herself; she wouldn't seek self-exculpation; and
while, with all her humility, Mary felt that as a little stinging, she felt
it, also, as something of a relief. Mrs. Upton, no doubt, was indifferent
as to her opinion of her rightness and her wrongness, and Mrs. Upton--there
was the comfort of it,--was a person whom one must put on one side when
it came to judgments. She didn't seem to belong to any of the usual
categories. One didn't want to judge her. One was thankful for the haze she
made about herself and her motives. That Jack understood her was, Mary felt
sure, the result of some peculiar perspicacity of Jack's, for she didn't
believe that Mrs. Upton had ever explained or exculpated herself to Jack,
either. It even dawned on her that his perspicacity perhaps consisted
mainly in the sense of trust that she herself was experiencing. She trusted
Mrs. Upton, were she right, or were she wrong, and there was an end of it.
With that final realization she uncovered her eyes and met her hostess's
eyes again, eyes so soft, so clear, but with, in them, a look of suffering.
Childlike, her hair folding behind her cheek and neck, she was faded,
touched with age; Mary had never seen it so clearly. Somehow it made her
even sorrier than the suffering she recognized.

"Oh, but it's been hard for you, too," she exclaimed, shyly but
irrepressibly, "everything, all of it. Just let me say that."

Valerie had blushed her infrequent, vivid blush. She rose and came behind
Mary's chair again, gathering up the abandoned tresses. But before she
began to comb and coil she said, "Thanks," leaning forward and, very
lightly, kissing the girl's forehead.

After that there was silence between them while the work of hair-dressing
went on. Valerie did not speak again until, softly forming the contour of
the transfigured head, she said, looking at Mary's reflection with an air
of quiet triumph;--"Now, is not that charming?"

"Charming; perfectly charming," Mary replied, vaguely; the tears were near
her eyes.

"You must come again, to-morrow, and do it under my supervision. It only
needs this, now." She thrust two heavy tortoise-shell pins into the coils
on either side of Mary's head.

"Those beautiful pins! I am afraid I shall lose them!"

"But they are yours,--mementoes of the new era in hair-dressing. I have
several of them. There, you are quite as I would have you,--as far as your
head goes."

"Not as far as the rest of me goes, I'm afraid," said Mary, laughing in
spite of herself, and lured from sadness.

"I wish you'd let me make the rest of you to match," said Valerie. "I've
always loved dressing people up. I loved dressing my dolls when I was a
child. That stiff shirt doesn't go with your head."

"No, it doesn't. I really don't see," said Mary tentatively, "why one
shouldn't regard dressing as a form of art; I mean, of course, as long as
one keeps it in its proper place, as it were."

"To get it in its proper place is to dress well, don't you think. I found
such a pretty lawn dress of mine in a trunkful of things put away here;
it's a little too juvenile for me, now, and, besides, I'm in mourning. May
I put you into it?"

"But I should feel so odd, so frivolous. I'm such a staid, solemn person."

"But the dress is staid, too,--a dear little austerity of a dress;--it's
just as much you as that way of doing your hair is. Don't imagine that I
would commit such a solecism as to dress you frivolously. Look; will you
put this on at once,--to please me?"

She had drawn the delicate thing, all falls and plaitings of palest blue,
from a closet, and, shaking it out, looked up with quite serious eyes
of supplication. It was impossible not to yield. Laughing, frightened,
charmed, Mary allowed Mrs. Upton to dress her, and then surveyed herself
in the long mirror with astonishment. She couldn't but own that it was
herself, though such a transfigured self. She didn't feel out of place,
though she felt new and strange.

"Now, Mary, go down to them and see to it that they all do as I say,"
Valerie insisted. "Imogen is to take Sir Basil to the club;--Miss Bocock
is to garden with me--tell her particularly that I count upon her. Jack is
to take you for a drive. And, Mary," she put her hand for a moment on the
girl's shoulder, grave for all her recovered lightness;--"you are not to
talk of sad things to Jack. You must help me about Jack. You must cheer
him;--make him forget. You must talk of all the things you used to talk of
before--before either I or Imogen came."

They were all on the veranda when Mary went down; all, that is, but Rose
and Eddy. Sir Basil and Miss Bocock were deep in letters. Imogen, seated
on a step, the sunlight playing over her fluttering black, endured--it was
evident that enjoyment made no part of her feeling--a vivid and emphatic
account from Jack of some recent political occurrence. He was even reading,
here and there, bits from the newspaper he held, and Mary fancied that
there was an unnatural excitement in his voice, an unusual eagerness in his
eye, with neither of which had he in the least infected Imogen.

On seeing Mary appear he dropped the newspaper and joined her in the hall,
drawing her from there into the little library. "Well?--Well?--" he
questioned keenly.

He had no eyes for her transformation, Mary noted that, although Imogen, in
the instant of her appearance, had fixed grave and astonished eyes upon
her. She repeated her message.

"Well, do you know," said Jack, "we can't obey her. I'm so sorry;--I should
have liked the drive with you, Mary, of all things; but it turns out that
I can't take anybody this morning, I've some letters, just come, that must
be answered by return. But, Mary, see here," his voice dropped and his
keenness became more acute;--"help me about it. See that she goes. She
needs it."

"Needs it?"

"Don't you see that she's worn out?"

"Jack, only this morning, I've begun to suspect it;--what is the matter?"

"Everything. Everything is the matter. So, she mustn't be allowed to take
all the drudgery on her hands. Miss Bocock may go to the club with Imogen;
she's just ready to go, she wants to go;--and Mrs. Upton must have the
drive with Sir Basil. He'd far rather drive with her than walk with
Imogen," said Jack brazenly.

"I suppose so, they are such great friends;--only;--drudgery?--She likes
Miss Bocock. She likes gardening,"--Mary's breath was almost taken away by
his tense decisiveness.

"She likes Sir Basil better"; Jack said it in the freest manner, a manner
that left untouched any deeper knowledge that they might both be in
possession of. "Imogen likes him better, too. It's for that, so that Imogen
may have the best of it, that she's taking Miss Bocock off Imogen's
hands;--you see, I see that you do. So, you just stay here and keep still
about your counter-demands, while I manage it."

"But Jack,--you bewilder me!--I ought to give my message. I hate managing."

"I'll see that your message is given."

"But how can you?--Jack--what _are_ you planning?"

He was going and, with almost an impatience of her Puritan scruples, he
paused at the door to reply:--"Don't bother. I'm all right. I won't manage
it. I'll simply _have_ it so."

Half an hour later Valerie came down-stairs wearing her white hat with its
black ribbons and drawing on her gardening gloves. And in the large, cool
hall, holding his serviceable letters, Jack awaited her.

"I hope you won't mind," he announced, but in the easiest tones; "we can't
obey you this morning. Miss Bocock's gone off to the club with Imogen, and
Sir Basil is going to take you for a drive."

Valerie, standing on the last step of the stair, a little above him, paused
in the act of adjusting her glove, to stare at him. Easy as his tone was he
couldn't hide from her that he wore a mask.

"Was Mary too late to give my message?"

"Yes;--that is, no, not exactly; but the club had been arranged and Miss
Bocock was eager about it and knew you wouldn't mind, especially as Sir
Basil set his heart on the drive with you, when he heard that I couldn't
go."

"That you couldn't go?--but you sent Mary to ask me."

"I had to waive my claim,--I've just had these letters"; he held them up.
"Very important; they must be answered at once; it will take all my
morning, and, of course, when Sir Basil heard that, he jumped at his
chance."

Valerie was still on the step above him, fully illuminated, and, as, with
that careful ease, he urged Sir Basil's eagerness upon her, he saw--with
what a throb of the heart, for her, for himself--that her deep flush rose.

Oh, she loved him. She couldn't conceal it, not from the eyes that watched
her now. And was she glad of an unasked-for help, or did her pride suspect
help and resent it? Above all did she know how in need of help she was?

He hadn't been able to prevent his eyes from turning from the blush; they
avowed, he feared, the consciousness that he would hide; but, after a
little moment, in the same voice of determined, though cautious
penetration, Valerie questioned: "Is Imogen just gone?"

"She has been gone these fifteen minutes," said Jack, striving to conceal
triumph.

"And Mary?"

"Mary?"

"Yes; where is Mary? Is she left out of all your combinations?"

She did probe, then, though her voice was so mild, the voice, only, of the
slightly severe, slightly displeased hostess who finds her looms entangled.

"Mary always has a lot to do."

"Sir Basil shall take Mary," said Valerie cheerfully, as though she picked
up the thread and found a way out of the silly chaos of his making.

And at this crisis, this check from the goddess who wouldn't be served,
Jack's new skill rose to an almost sinister height. Without a flaw in their
apparent candor, his eyes met hers while he said:--"Please don't upset my
little personal combination. It's very selfish of me, I know;--but I wanted
to keep Mary for myself this morning. I've seen so little of her of late;
and I need her to talk over my letters with; they're about things we are
both interested in."

Valerie looked fixedly at him while he made this statement, and he
couldn't tell what her look meant. But, evidently, she yielded to his
counter-stratagem, feeling it, no doubt, unavoidable, for the buggy just
then drew up before the door, and the figure of Sir Basil appeared above.

"I _am_ in luck!" said Sir Basil. Excitement as well as eagerness was
visible in him. Valerie did not look up at him, though she smiled vaguely,
coming down from her step and selecting a parasol on her way to the door.
Jack was beside her, and he saw that the flush still stayed. He seemed to
see, too, that she was excited and eager, but, more than all, that she was
frightened. Yet she kept, for him, her quiet voice.

Before Sir Basil joined them she had time to say:--"You are rather
mysterious, Jack. If you have deep-laid plans, I would rather you paid me
the compliment of showing me the deepest one at once. I am not being nasty
to you," she smiled faintly. "Find Mary at once, you must have wasted a lot
of time already in getting to those letters."

Jack stood in the doorway while they drove off. Valerie, though now very
pale, in the shadow of her hat, showed all her gay tranquillity, and she
was very lovely. Sir Basil must see that. He must see that, and all the
other things, that, perhaps, he had forgotten for a foolish moment.

Jack felt himself, this morning, in a category where he had never thought
it possible that he should find himself. It was difficult to avoid the
conviction that he had, simply, lied two or three times in order to send
Mrs. Upton and Sir Basil off together in their long, swaying, sunny
solitude. Jack had never imagined it possible that he should lie. But,
observing, as he was forced to, the blot on his neat, clean conscience, he
found himself considering it without a qualm. His only qualm was for its
success. The drive would justify him. He almost swore it to himself, as
Valerie's parasol disappeared among the trees. The drive would justify him,
and reinstate Sir Basil. Unless Sir Basil were a fool, what he had done was
well done.

Yet, when they had disappeared, it was with the saddest drop to anxious, to
gnawing uncertainty, that Jack turned back into the house. An echo of the
fear that he had felt in Valerie seemed to float back to him. It was as if,
in some strange way, he had handed her over to pain rather than to joy, to
sacrifice rather than to attainment.



XXVII


Jack's morning was not a happy one. It was bad enough to have told so many
fibs, or, at all events, to have invented so many opportune truths, and it
was worse to have to go on inventing more of them to Mary, now that his
dexterities had linked him to her.

Mary looked, as was only too natural, much surprised, when he told her that
his letters required her help. She looked still more so when she found how
inadequate were their contents to account for such a claim.

Indeed there was, apparently, but one letter upon which her advice could be
of the least significance, and after she had given him all the information
she had to give in regard to the charity for which it appealed, there was
really nothing more for them to do.

"But--the letters that required the immediate answers?" she asked.

Jack's excited, plausible manner had dropped from him. Mary felt it
difficult to be severe when his look of dejection was piercing her heart;
still, she felt that she owed it to him as well as to herself, she must see
a little more clearly into how he had "had things so."

He replied, his eye neither braving nor evading hers, that he had already
answered them; and Mary, after a little pause, in which she studied her
friend's face, said:--"I don't understand you this morning, Jack."

"I'm afraid you'll understand me less when I make you a confession. I
didn't give your message this morning, Mary."

"Didn't give Mrs. Upton's message, to Miss Bocock, to Sir Basil?"

"No," said Jack, but with more mildness and sadness than compunction;--"I
want to be straight with you, at all events. So I'd rather tell you. All I
did was to say to Sir Basil that I found I couldn't take Mrs. Upton for the
drive I'd promised, so that if he wanted to take my place, he was welcome
to the buggy. He wanted to, of course. That went without saying."

"Why, Jack Pennington!"

"Miss Bocock, luckily, was on the other side of the veranda, so that I
had only to go round to her afterward and tell her that Mrs. Upton had
suggested their gardening, but that since she was going to drive with Sir
Basil she could go off to the club, at once, too, with Imogen."

"But, Jack!--what did you mean by it?"--Mary, quite aghast, stared at her
Machiavellian friend.

"Why, that Sir Basil should take her. That's all I meant from the
beginning, when I proposed going myself. Do forgive me, you dear old brick.
You see, I'm so awfully set on her not being done out of things."

"Done out of things?"

"Oh, little things, if you like, young things. She's young, and she ought
to have them. Say you forgive me."

"Of course, Jack dear, I forgive you, though I don't understand you. But
that's not the point. Everything seems so queer, so twisted; every one
seems different. And to find _you_ not straight is worst of all."

"I promise you, it's my last sin," said Jack.

Mary, though shaking her bewildered head, had to smile a little, and, the
smile encouraging him to lightness, he remarked on her changed aspect.

"So do forgive and forget. I had to confess, when I'd not been true to you.
Really, my nature isn't warped. What an extremely becoming dress that is
Mary;--and what have you done to your hair?"

"It's _she_," said Mary, flushing with pleasure.

"Mrs. Upton?"

"Yes, she did my hair and gave me the dress. She was so sweet and dear."

Jack lightly touched a plaited ruffle of the wide sleeve, and Mary felt
that he had never less thought of her than when he so touched her dress.
She put aside the deep little pang that gave her to say: "It's true, Jack,
she ought to have young things, just because they are going from her; one
feels that: She oughtn't to be standing back, and giving up things, yet. I
see a little what you mean. _Isn't_ it pretty?" Still, with an absent hand,
he lightly touched, here and there, a ruffle of her sleeve. "But it's like
her. I hardly feel myself in it."

"You've never so looked yourself," said Jack. "That's what she does, brings
out people's real selves."

Mrs. Upton and Sir Basil did not come back to lunch, and Imogen's face was
somber indeed as she faced her guests at the table. Jack, vigilant and
pitiless, guessed at the turmoil of her soul.

She asked him, with an icy sweetness, how his letters had prospered. "Did
you get them all off?"

Jack said that he had, and Mary, casting a wavering glance at him, saw
that if he intended to sin no more, he showed, at all events, a sinful
guilelessness of demeanor. She herself began to blush so helplessly and
so furiously that Imogen's attention was drawn to her. Imogen, also, was
vigilant.

"And what have you been doing, Mary dear?" she asked.

"I--oh"--poor Mary looked the sinful one;--"I--helped Jack a little."

"Helped Jack?--Oh, yes, he had heaps of letters, hadn't he? What were they
all about, Mary?"

"Oh, charities."

"Charities?--What charities? How many charities?--I'm interested in that,
you know--I'm rather hurt that you didn't ask my advice, too," and Imogen
smiled her ominous smile. "What were the charities?"

Mary, crimson to the brow, her eyes on her plate, now did her duty.

"There was only one."

"One--and that of such consequence that Jack had to give up his drive
because of it?--what an interesting letter."

"There were other letters, of course," Jack, in aid of his innocent
accomplice, struck in. "None that would have particularly interested you,
Imogen. I only needed advice about the one, a local Boston affair."

"There were others, Mary," said Imogen, laughing a little, "You needn't
look so guilty on Jack's account." Mary gave her a wide, startled stare.

"You see, Mary," said Rose, after lunch in the drawing-room, "saints can
sting."

"What was the matter!" Mary murmured, her head still seemed to buzz, as
though from a violent box on the ear. "I never heard Imogen speak like
that. To _hurt_ one!"

"I fancy she'd been getting thwarted in some way," said Rose comfortably;
"saints do sting, then, sometimes, the first thing that happens to be at
hand. How Jack and she hate each other!"

Mary went away to her room and cried.

Meanwhile Jack wandered about in the woods until, quite late in the
afternoon, he saw from the rustic bench, where, finally, he had cast
himself, the returning buggy climbing up through the lower woodlands.

He felt that his heart throbbed heavily as he watched it, just catching
glimpses, among the trees, of the white bubble of Valerie's parasol
slanting against the sun. Yet there was a dullness in his excitement. It
was over, at all events. He was sure that the last die was cast. And his
own trivial and somewhat indecorous part, of shifter of scenes and puller
of strings, was, he felt sure, a thing put by forever. He could help her
no longer. And in a sort of apathy, he sat out there in the sunny green,
hardly thinking, hardly wondering, conscious only of a hope that had become
a mere physical sense of oppression and of an underlying sadness that had
become, almost, a physical sense of pain.

He had just consulted his watch and, seeing it wanted but ten minutes to
tea-time, had got up and was moving away, when a sudden rustle near him, a
pause, a quick, evasive footstep, warned him of some presence as anxious
for solitude as himself.

He stood still for a moment, uncertain as to his own best means of retreat,
but his stillness misled, for, in another moment, Valerie appeared before
him from among the branches of a narrow side path.

She had come up to the woods directly; he saw that, for she still wore her
hat; she had come to be alone and to weep; and, as she saw Jack, her pale
face was convulsed, with the effort to control her weeping, into a strange
rigor of pain and confusion.

"Oh"--he stammered. "Forgive me. I didn't know you were here." He was
turning to flee, as if from a sacrilege, when she recalled him.

"Don't--without me. I must go back, too," she said.

She stepped on to the broader path and joined him, and he guessed that she
tested, on him, her power to face the others. But, after they had gone a
few steps together, she stopped suddenly and put her hands before her face,
standing quite still.

And Jack understood that she was helpless and that he must say nothing. She
stood so for a long moment, not trusting herself to move or speak. Then,
uncovering her face, she showed him strange eyes from which the tears had
been crushed back.

"And--I can do nothing?--" he said at last, on the lowest breath, as they
walked on.

"Nothing, dear Jack."

"When you are suffering like that!"

"I have no right to such suffering. I must hide it. Help me to hide it,
Jack. Do I look fairly decent?" She turned her face to him, with, he
thought, the most valorous smile he had ever seen.

Only a thin screen of leaves was between them and the open.

"You look--beautiful," said Jack. She smiled on, as though that satisfied
her, and he added, "Can I know nothing?--See nothing?"

"I think already," said Valerie, "that you see more than I ever meant any
one to see."

"I?--I see nothing, now," he almost moaned.

"You shall. I'll talk to you later."

"You will? If only you knew how I cared!"

"I do, dear Jack."

"Not how much, not how much. You can't know that. It almost gives me my
right, you know, to see. When will you talk to me?"

"Some time to-night, when we can have a quiet moment. I'll tell you about
the things that have happened--nothing to make you sad, I hope. And I'll
ask you some questions, too, Jack, about your very odd behavior!"

Really she was wonderful; it was almost her own gaiety, flickering like
pale sunlight upon her face, that she had regained, and, as they went
together over the lawn to where the tea-table was laid in the shade, he saw
that she could face them all. No one would know. And her last words had
given him heart, had lifted, a little, the heavy weight of foreboding.
Perhaps, perhaps, her grief wasn't for herself. "Oh, but I can't be candid
till you are," he said, the new hope shining in his eyes.

"Oh, yes, you will be," she returned. "You won't ask me to be candid.
You'll give and not ask to get back. I know you, Jack."

No one could guess; Sir Basil least of all. That was apparent to Jack as
he watched them all sitting at tea under the apple-trees. Sir Basil had
never looked so radiant, so innocent of any connection with suffering. He
exclaimed over the beauties of their long drive. They had crossed hill and
dale; they had lost their way; they had had lunch at a village hotel, an
amusing lunch, ending with ice-cream and pie, and, from the undiminished
reflection of his contentment on Valerie's features, Jack knew that any
faintest hint of the pale, stricken anguish of the woodlands had never for
an instant hovered during the drive. This was the face that Sir Basil had
seen for all the happy, sunny, picnic day, this face of gay tranquillity.

Sir Basil and Mrs. Upton, indeed, expressed what gaiety there was among
the group. Mary, in her blue lawn, looked very dreary. Rose and Eddy were
ill-tempered, their day, plainly, having ended in a quarrel. As for Imogen,
Jack had felt her heavy eye rest upon him and her mother as they came
together over the lawn, and felt it rest upon her mother and Sir Basil
steadily and somberly, while they sat about the tea-table. The long drive,
Sir Basil's radiance, her mother's serenity, how must they look to Imogen?
Jack could conjecture, though knowing, for his own bitter mystification,
that what they looked like was perhaps not what they meant. Imogen must
be truly at bay, and he felt a cruel satisfaction in the thought of her
hidden, her gnawing anxiety. He was aware of every ring of falsity in her
placid voice and of every flash of fierceness under the steeled calmness
of her eye. He noticed, too, for the rest of the day, that, whatever
Imogen's desperation, she made no effort to see Sir Basil alone. Almost
ostentatiously she went away to her room after tea, saying that she had had
bad news of an invalid _protégé_ and must write to her. She paused, as she
went, to lean over Mary, a caressing hand upon her shoulder, and to speak
to her in a low tone. Mary grew very red, stammered, and said nothing.

"Miss Upton overworks, I think," observed Miss Bocock. "I've thought that
she seemed overstrained all day."

Mary had risen too, and as she wandered away into the flower garden, Jack
followed her.

"See here," he said, "has Imogen been hurting you again?"

"No, Jack, oh no;--I'm sure she doesn't mean to hurt."

"What did she say to you just now?"

"Well, Jack, you did bring it upon yourself, and upon me"--

"What was it?"

"She said that she couldn't bear to see her white flower--that's I, you
know,"--Mary blushed even deeper in repeating the metaphor--"used for
unworthy ends. She meant, of course, I see that,--she meant that what she
said at lunch was for you and not for me. I'm sure that Imogen _means_ to
be kind--always."

"I believe she does."

"I'm glad that you feel that, too, Jack. It is so horrible to see oneself
as--oh, really disloyal sometimes."

"You need never feel that, Mary."

"Oh, but I do. And now, when everything, every one, seems turning against
Imogen! And she has seemed different;--yet for two years she has been a
revelation of everything noble to me."

"You only saw her in noble circumstances."

"Oh, Jack," Mary's eyes were full of tears as she looked at him now,
"that's the worst of all; that you have come to speak of her like that."



XXVIII


Even Valerie couldn't dispel the encompassing cloud of gloom at dinner. One
couldn't do much in such a fog but drift with it. And Jack saw that she was
fit for no more decisive action.

Imogen, pale, and almost altogether silent, said that she was very tired,
and went up-stairs early. Rose and Eddy, in a shaded corner of the
drawing-room, engaged in a long altercation. The others talked, in
desultory fashion, till bedtime. No one seemed fit for more than drifting.

It was hardly eleven when Jack was left alone with Mrs. Upton.

"You are tired, too," he said to her; "dreadfully tired. I mustn't ask for
our talk."

"I should like a little stroll in the moonlight." Valerie, at the open
window, was looking out. "In a night or two it will be too late for us to
see. We'll have our walk and our talk, Jack."

She rang for her white chuddah, told the maid to put out the lamps, and
that she and Mr. Pennington would shut the house when they came in. From
the darkened house they stepped into the warm, pale night. They went in
silence over the lawn and, with no sense of choice, took the mossy path
that led to the rustic bench where they had met that afternoon.

It was not until they were lost in the obscurity of the woods that Valerie
said, very quietly: "Do you remember our talk, Jack, on that evening in New
York, after the tableaux?"

He had followed along the path just behind her; but now he came to her side
so that he could see her shadowy face. "Yes;--the evening in which we saw
that Imogen and Sir Basil were going to be friends."

"And the evening," said Valerie, "when you showed me plainly, at last, that
because I seemed gold to you, Imogen's blue had turned to green."

"Yes;--I remember."

"It has faded further and further away, her blue, hasn't it?"

"Yes," he confessed.

"So that you are hardly friends, Jack?"

He paused for a moment, and then completed his confession:--"We are not
friends."

Valerie stood still, breathing as if with a little difficulty after the
gradual ascent. The tall trees about them were dark and full of mystery on
the pale mysterious sky. Through the branches they could see the glint of
the moon's diminished disk.

"That is terrible, you know," said Valerie, after they had stood in silence
for some moments.

"I know it."

"For both of you."

"Worse for me, because I cared more, really cared more."

"No, worse for her, for it is you who have judged and rejected her."

"She thinks that it is she who has judged and rejected me."

"She tries to think it; she does not always succeed. It has been bitter, it
has been cruel for her."

"Oh, yes, bitter and cruel," he assented.

"Don't try to minimize her pain, Jack."

"You feel that I can't care, much?"

"It is horrible for me to feel it. Think of her when I came, so secure, so
calm, so surrounded by love and appreciation. And now"--Valerie walked on,
as if urged to motion by the controlled force of her own insistence. Was it
an appeal to him that Imogen, dispossessed of the new love, might find
again the old love opening to her? He clung to the hope, though with a
sickening suspicion of its folly.

"By my coming, I have robbed her of everything," Valerie was saying,
walking swiftly up the path and breathing as if with that slight
difficulty--the sound of her breaths affected him with an almost
intolerable sense of expectancy. "She isn't secure;--she isn't calm. She is
warped;--her faiths are warped. Her friends are changed to her. She has
lost you. It's as if I had shattered her life."

"Everything that wasn't real you have shattered."

The rustic bench was reached and they paused there, though with no eyes for
the shaft of mystic distance that opened before them. Jack's eyes were on
her and he was conscious of a rising insistence in himself that matched and
opposed her own.

"But you must be sorry for her pain," said Valerie, and now, with eyes
almost stern in their demand, she gazed at him;--"you must be sorry that
she has had to lose so much. And you would be glad, would you not, to think
that real things, a new life, were to come to her?"

He understood; even before the words, his fear, his presage, leaped forward
to this crashing together of all his hopes. And it seemed to him that a
flame passed through him, shriveling in its ardent wrath all trite
reticences and decorums.

"No; no, I should not be glad," he answered. His voice was violent; the
eyes he fixed on her were violent. His words struck Imogen out of his life
for ever.

"Why are you so cruel?" she faltered.

"I am cruel for _you_. I know what you want to do. You are going to give
her _your_ life."

Quick as a flash she answered--it was like a rapier parrying his
stroke:--"Give?--what have I to do with it, if it comes to her?"

"Everything! Everything!" he cried.

"Nothing. You are mistaken."

"Ah,--you could keep it, you could keep it--if you tried." And now his eyes
pleaded--pleaded with her, for her own life's sake, to keep what was hers.
"You have only to _show_ her to him, as you did to me."

"You think--I could do that!--to my child!"--Through the darkness her white
face looked a wild reproach at him.

He seized her hands:--"It's to do her no wrong!--It's only to be true,
consciously, to him, as you were true, unconsciously, to me. It's only, not
to let her rob you--not to let her rob him."

"Jack," she breathed heavily, "these are things that cannot be said."

"They must--they must--now, between us. I have my right. I've cared
enough--to do anything, so that she should not rob you!" Jack groaned.

"She has not robbed me. It left me;--it went to her;--I saw it all. Even if
I had been base enough, even if I had tried to keep it by showing her to
him--as you say so horribly,--even then I should not have kept it. He would
not have seen. Don't you understand;--he is not that sort of man. She will
always be blue to him, and I will always be gold--though perhaps, now, a
little tarnished. That's what is so beautiful in him--and so stupid. He
doesn't see colors, as you and I do, Jack. That's what makes me sure that
this is the happiest of fortunes for them both."

He had held her hands, gazing at her downcast face, its strength speaking
from the shadow, its pain hidden from him, and now, before her resolution
and her gentleness, he bent his head upon the hands he held. "Oh, but _you,
you, you_!--It's _you_ whose life is shattered!" broke from him with a sob.

For a long while she stood silent above him, her hands enfolding his, as
though she comforted his grief. He found himself at length kissing the
gentle hands, with tears, and then, caressing his bent head with a light
touch, she said: "Don't you see that the time has come for me to accept
shatterings as in the order of things, dear Jack?--My mistake has been to
believe that life can begin over again. It can't. One uses it up--merely by
waiting. I've been an incurable girl till now;--and now, I've crashed from
girlhood to middle-age in a week! It's been a crash, of course; the sort of
crash one never mends of; but after to-day, after you sent me off with him,
Jack, and I allowed myself, in spite of all my dread, my pride, my
relinquishment, just one flicker of girlish hope,--after all this, I think
that I must put on caps to show that I am really old at last."

He lifted his head and looked at her. Her face was lovely, with the silver
disk of the moon above it and, about it, the mystery and sadness of the
tranquil woods. So lovely, so young, with almost the trembling touch of a
tender mockery, like the trembling of moonlit water, upon it. And all that
he found to say at last was:--"What a fool he is."

She really smiled then, though tears sprang to her eyes with her
comprehension of all that the helpless, boyish words struggled to subdue.

"Thanks for that, dear Jack,--and for all the other mistakes," she said.

There seemed nothing more to say, no questions to ask, or to answer. He
must accept from her that her plight was irrevocable. It was as if he had
seen a great stone rolled over the quivering, springing, shining fountain,
sealing it, stilling it for ever. And, for his part, her word covered all.
His "mistakes" needed no further revealing.

They had turned and, in silence, were moving down the path again, when they
heard, suddenly, the sound of light, swift footsteps approaching them. They
paused, exchanging a glance of wonder; and Jack thought that he saw fear in
Valerie's eyes. The day, already, had held overmuch of endurance for her,
and it was not yet ended. In another moment, tall and illumined, Imogen
appeared before them in the path.

Jack knew, in thinking it over afterward, that Imogen at her most baleful
had been Imogen at her most beautiful. She had looked, as she emerged from
shadow into light, like a virgin saint bent on some wild errand through the
night, an errand brought to a proud pause, in which was no fear and no
hesitancy, as her path was crossed by the spirits of an evil world. That
was really just what she looked like, standing there before them, bathed in
light, her eyes profound and stern, her hair crowning her with a glory of
transmuted gold, her head uplifted with a high, unfaltering purpose. That
the shock of finding them there before her was great, one saw at once; and
one could gage the strength of her purpose from her instantaneous
surmounting of the shock.

And it was strange, in looking back, to remember how the time of colorless
light and colorless shadow had seemed to divest them all of daily
conventions and daily seemings. They might have been three disembodied
souls met there in the moonlit woods and speaking the direct, unimpeded
language of souls, for whom all concealments are useless.

"Oh--it is _you_," was what Imogen said; much as the virgin saint might
have greeted the familiar demons who opposed her quest. _You_, meant both
of them. She put them together into one category of evil, saw them as one
in their enmity to her and to good. And she seemed to accept them as very
much what a saint might expect to find on such a nocturnal errand.

Involuntarily Valerie had fallen back, and she had put her hand on Jack's
shoulder in confusion more than in fear. Yet, feeling a menace in the
white, shining presence, her voice faltered as she asked: "Imogen, what are
you doing here?"

And it was at this point that Imogen reached, really, her own culmination.
Whatever shame, whatever hesitation, whatever impulsion to deceive when
deception was so easy, she may have felt; to lie, when a lie would be so
easily convincing, she rejected and triumphed over. Jack knew from her
uplifted look that the moment would count with her always as one of her
great ones one of the moments in which--as she had used to say to him
sometimes in the days that were gone forever--one knew that one had "beat
down Satan under one's feet."

"You have no right to ask me that," she said, "but I choose to answer you.
I have come here to meet Sir Basil."

"Meet him?" It was in pure bewilderment that Valerie questioned,
helplessly, without reproach.

"Meet him. Yes. What have you to say to it?"

"But why meet him?--Why now?" The wonder on Valerie's face had broken to
almost merriment. "Did he ask you to?--Really, really, he oughtn't to.
Really, my child, I can't have you meeting Sir Basil in the woods at
midnight."

"You can't have me meeting him in the woods at midnight?" Imogen repeated,
an ominous cadence, holding her head high and taking long breaths. "You say
that, dare say it, when you well know that I can meet him nowhere else and
in no other way. It was _I_ who asked him to meet me here and it is here,
confronted with you, if you so choose; it is here, before you and under
God's stars, that I shall know the truth from him. I am not ashamed; I am
proud to say it;--I love him. And though you scheme, and stoop and strive
to take him from me--you, with Jack to help you--Jack to lie for you--as he
did this morning,--I know, I know in my heart and soul that he loves me,
that he is mine."

"Jack!--Jack!" Valerie cried. She caught him back, for he started forward
to seize, to gag her daughter; "Jack--remember, remember!--She doesn't
understand!"

"Oh, he may strike me if he wills." Imogen had stood quite still, not
flinching.

"I don't want to strike you--you--you idiot!"--Jack was gasping. "I want to
force you to your knees, before your mother--who loves you--as no one else
who knows you will ever love you!" And, helplessly, his old words, so
trite, so inadequate, came back to him. "You self-centered, you
self-righteous, you cold-hearted girl!"

Valerie still held his arm with both hands, leaning upon him.

"Imogen," she said, speaking quickly, "you needn't meet Sir Basil in this
way;--there is nothing to prevent you from seeing him where and when you
will. You are right in believing that he loves you. He asked me this
morning for your hand. And I gave him my consent."

From a virgin saint Imogen, as if with the wave of a wand, saw herself
turned into a rather foolish genie, so transformed and then, ever so
swiftly, run into a bottle;--it was surely the graceful seal firmly affixed
thereto when she heard these words of conformity to the traditions of
dignified betrothal. And for once in her life, so bottled and so sealed,
she looked, as if through the magic crystal of her mother's words,
absolutely, helplessly foolish. It is difficult for a genie in a bottle to
look contrite or stricken with anything deeper than astonishment; nor is it
practicable in such a situation to fall upon one's knees,--if a genie were
to feel such an impulse of self-abasement. It was perhaps a comfort to all
concerned, including a new-comer, that Imogen should be reduced to the
silence of sheer stupefaction; and as Sir Basil appeared among them it was
not at him, after her first wide glance, that she looked, but, still as if
through the crystal bottle, at her mother, and the look was, at all events,
a confession of utter inadequacy to deal with the situation in which she
found herself.

It was Valerie, once more, who steered them all past the giddy whirlpool.
Jack, beside her, his heart and brain turning in dizzy circles, marveled at
her steadiness of eye, her clearness of voice. He would have liked to lean
against a tree and get his breath; but this delicate creature, rising from
her rack, could move forward to her place beside the helm, and smile!

"Sir Basil," she said, and she put out her hand to him so mildly that Sir
Basil may well have thought his rather uncomfortable _rendezvous_ redeemed
into happiest convention, "here we all are waiting for you, and here we are
going to leave you, you and Imogen, to take a walk and to say some of all
the things you will have to say to each other. Give me your hand, Imogen.
There, dear friend, I think that it is yours, and I trust her life to you
with, my blessing. Now take your walk, I will wait for you, as late as you
like, in the drawing-room."

So was the bottled genie released, so did it resume once more the figure of
a girl, hardly humbled, yet, it must be granted, deeply confused. In
perfect silence Imogen walked away beside her suitor, and it may be said
that she never told him of the little episode that had preceded his
arrival. Jack and Valerie went slowly on toward the house. Now that she had
grasped the helm through the whirlpool he almost expected that she would
fall upon the deck. But, silently, she walked beside him, not taking his
arm, wrapped closely in her shawl, and, once more inside the dark
drawing-room, she proceeded to light the candles on the mantel-piece,
saying that she would wait there until the others came in, smiling very
faintly as she added:--"That everything may be done properly and in order."
Jack walked up and down the room, his hands deeply thrust into the pockets
of his dining-jacket.

"As for you, you had better go to bed," Valerie went on after a moment. She
had placed the candles on a table, taken a chair near them and chosen a
review. She turned the pages while she spoke.

At this, he, too, being disposed of, he stopped before her. "And you wanted
me to be glad!"

Her eyes on the unseen print, she turned her pages, and now that they were
out of the woods and surrounded by walls and furniture and everyday
symbols, he saw that the pressure of his presence was heavier, and that she
blushed a deep, weary blush. But she was able and willing quite to dispose
of him. "I want you to be glad," she answered.

"For her!"--For that creature!--his words implied.

"It was natural, what she thought," said Valerie after a moment, though not
looking up.

"Natural!--To suspect you!"--

"Of what you wanted me to do?" Valerie asked. "Yes, it was quite natural, I
think, and partly because of your manoeuvers, my poor Jack. I understand it
all now. But the cause you espoused was already a doomed one, you see."

"Oh!" he almost groaned. "_You_ doomed it! Don't you feel any pity for
_him_?"

Valerie continued to look at her page, silently, for a moment, and it was
now indeed as though his question found some reverberating echo in herself.
But, in the silent moment, she thought it out swiftly and surely, grasping
old clues.

"No, Jack," she said, and she was giving herself, as well as him, the final
answer, "I don't pity him. He will never see Imogen baffled, warped, at
bay,--as we have. He will always see her crowned, successful, radiant. She
will count tremendously over there, far more than I ever would, because
she's so different, because she cares such a lot. And Imogen must count to
be radiant. She will help him in all sorts of ways, give him a new life;
she will help everybody. Do you remember what Eddy said of her, that if it
weren't for people of the Imogen type the cripples would die off like
anything!--That was true. She is one of the people who make the wheels of
the world go round. And it's a revival for a man like Sir Basil to live
with such a person. With me he would have faded back into the onlooker at
life; with Imogen he will live. And then, above all, quite above all, he is
in love with her. I think that he fell in love with her at first sight, as
Antigone, at her loveliest, except for to-night; to-night was her very
loveliest--because it was so real;--she would have claimed him from
me--before me--if he had come then; and her belief in herself, didn't you
see, Jack, how it illumined her?--And then, Jack, and this I'm afraid you
are forgetting, Imogen is a good girl, a very good girl. I can trust him to
her, you know. Her object in life will be to love him in the most
magnificent way possible. His happiness will be as much of an end to her as
her own."

It was, perhaps, the culminating symptom of his initiation, of his
transformation, when Jack, who had considered her while she spoke, standing
perfectly still, his hands in his pockets, his head bent, his eyes steadily
on her, now, finding nothing better to do than obey her first suggestion
and go to bed, took her hand before going, put it to his lips--and his
glance, as he kissed her hand, brought the tears, again, to Valerie's
eyes--and said: "Damn goodness."



XXIX


Imogen was, indeed, crowned and radiant. And, safe on her eminence,
recovered from the breathlessness of her rather unbecoming vigorous ascent,
she found her old serenity, her old benignity, safely enfolded her once
more. In looking down upon the dusty lowlands, where she had been blind and
bitter, she could afford to smile over herself, even to shake her head a
little over the vehemence of her own fear and courage. It was to have
lacked faith, to have lacked wisdom, the showing of such vehemence; yet,
who knew, without it, perhaps, she might not have escaped the nets that had
been laid for her feet, for Basil's feet, too, his strong and simple nature
making him helpless before sly ambushes. Jack, in declaring himself her
enemy, had effectually killed the last faint wailing that had so piteously,
so magnanimously, sounded on for him in her heart. He had, by his
trickster's dexterity, proved to her, if she needed proof, that she had
chosen the higher. A man who could so stoop--to lies--was not the man for
her. To say nothing of his iniquity, his folly was apparent. For Jack had
behaved like a fool, he must see that himself, in his espousal of a lost
cause.

Jack as delinquent stood plain, and she would accuse no one else. In the
bottom of Imogen's heart lingered, however, the suspicion that only when
her mother had seen the cause as lost, the contest as useless, had she
hastily assumed the dignified attitude that, for the dizzy, moonlit moment,
had, so humiliatingly, sealed her, Imogen, into the magic bottle. Imogen
suspected that she hadn't been so wrong, nor her mother so magnanimous as
had then appeared, and this secret suspicion made it the easier for her to
accept the seeming, since to do that was to show herself anybody's equal in
magnanimity. She was quite sure that her mother, in her shallow way, had
cared for Basil, and not at all sure that she had relinquished her hope at
the first symptom of his change of heart. But, though one couldn't but feel
stern at the thought, one couldn't, also, repress something of pity for the
miscalculation of the defeated love. To feel pity, moreover, was to show
herself anybody's equal in heart;--Jack's accusations rankled.

Yes; considering all things, and in spite of the things that, she must
always suspect, were hidden, her mother had behaved extremely well.

"And above all," Imogen thought, summing it up in terms at once generous
and apt, "she has behaved like the gentlewoman that she is. With all her
littlenesses, all her lacks, mama is essentially that." And the sweetest
moments of self-justification were those in which her heart really ached a
little for "poor mama," moments in which she wondered whether the love that
had come to her, in her great sorrow, high among the pine woods, had ever
been her mother's to lose. The wonder made her doubly secure and her mother
really piteous.

It was easy, her heart stayed on such heights, to suffer very tolerantly
the little stings that flew up to her from the buzzing, startled world.
Jack she did not see again, until the day of her wedding, only a month
later, and then his face, showing vaguely among the shimmering crowd,
seemed but an empty mask of the past. Jack departed early on the morning
after her betrothal, and it was only lesser wonders that she had to face.
Mary's was the one that teased most, and Imogen might have felt some
irritation had that not now been so inappropriate a sensation, before
Mary's stare, a stare that seemed to resume and take in, in the moment of
stupefaction, a world of new impressions. The memory of Mary staring, with
her hair done in a new and becoming way, was to remain for Imogen as a
symbol of the vexatious and altered, perhaps the corrupted life, that she
was, after all, leaving for good in leaving her native land.

"Sir Basil!--You are going to marry Sir Basil, Imogen!" said Mary.

"Yes, dear. Does that surprise you? Haven't you, really, seen it
coming?--We fancied that everyone must be guessing, while we were finding
it out for ourselves," Imogen answered, ever so gently.

"No, I never saw it, never dreamed of it."

"It seemed so impossible? Why, Mary dear?"

"I don't know;--he is so much older;--he isn't an American;--you won't live
in your own country;--I never imagined you marrying anyone but an
American."

The deepest wonder, Imogen knew it very well, was the one she could not
express:--I thought that he was in love with your mother.

Imogen smiled over the simplicity of the spoken surprises. "I don't think
that the question of years separates people so at one as Basil and I," she
said. "You would find how little such things meant, Mary mine, if your calm
little New England heart ever came to know what a great love is. As for my
country, my country will be my husband's country, but that will not make me
love my old home the less, nor make me forget all the things that life has
taught me here, any more than I shall be the less myself for being a bigger
and better self as his wife." And Imogen looked so uplifted in saying it
that poor, bewildered Mary felt that Mrs. Upton, after all, was right, one
couldn't tell where rightness was. Such love as Imogen's couldn't be wrong.
All the same, she was not sorry that Imogen, all transfigured as she
undoubtedly was, should be going very far away. Mary did not feel happy
with Imogen any longer.

Rose took the tidings in a very unpleasant manner; but then Rose didn't
count; in any circumstances her effrontery went without saying. One simply
looked over it, as in this case, when it took the form of an absolute
silence, a white, smiling silence.

Oddly enough, from the extreme of Rose's anger, came Eddy's chance. She
didn't tell Eddy that she saw his mother as robbed and that, in silence,
her heart bled for her; but she did say to him, several days after Imogen's
announcement, that, yes, she would.

"I know that I should be bound to take you some day, and I'd rather do it
just now when your mother has quite enough bothers to see to without having
your anxieties on her mind! I'll never understand anyone so well as I do
you, or quarrel with anyone so comfortably;--and besides," Rose added with
characteristic impertinence, "the truth is, my dear, that I want to be your
mother's daughter. It's that that has done it. I want to show her how nice
a daughter can be to her. I want to take Imogen's place. I'll be an
extremely bad wife, Eddy, but a good daughter-in-law. I adore your mother
so much that for her sake I'll put up with you."

Eddy said that she might adore any one as much as she liked so long as she
allowed him to put up with her for a lifetime. They did understand each
other, these two, and Valerie, though a little troubled by the something
hard and bright in their warring courtship, something that, she feared,
would make their path, though always illuminated, often rough, could
welcome her new daughter with real gladness.

"I know that you'll never care for me, as I do for you," said Rose, "and
that you will often scold me; but your scoldings will be my religion. Don't
spare them. You are my ideal, you know."

This speech, made in her presence, was, Imogen knew, intended as a cut at
herself. She heard it serenely. But Rose was more vexatious than Mary in
that she wasn't leaving her behind. Rose was already sparring with Eddy as
to when he would take her over to England for a season of hunting. Eddy
firmly held himself before her as a poor man, and when Rose dangled her own
wealth before him remarked that she could, of course, go without him, if
she liked. It was evident, in spite of sparring and hardness, that Rose
wouldn't like at all; and evident, too, that Eddy would often be wheedled
into a costly holiday. Imogen had to foresee a future of tolerance toward
Rose. Their worlds would not do more than merge here and there.

Imogen had, already, very distinct ideas as to her new world. It hovered as
important and political; the business of Rose's world would be its
relaxation only. For Imogen would never change colors, and her frown for
mere fashion would be as sad as ever. She was not to change, she was only
to intensify, to become "bigger and better." And this essential stability
was not contradicted by the fact that, in one or two instances, she found
herself developing. She was glad, and in the presence of Mrs. Wake, gravely
to renounce past errors as to the English people. Since coming to know
Basil, typical of his race, its flower, as he was, she had come to see how
far deeper in many respects, how far more evolved that English character
was than their own,--"their," now, signifying "your." "You really saw that
before I did, dear Mrs. Wake," said Imogen.

Already Imogen identified herself with her future husband so that the
defects of the younger civilization seemed no longer her affair, except in
so far as her understanding of them, her love of her dear country, and her
new enlightenments, made her the more eager to help. And then they were all
of the same race; she was very insistent on that; it was merely that the
branch to which she now belonged was a "bigger and better branch." Imogen
was none the less a good American for becoming so devoutly English. From
her knowledge of the younger, more ardent, civilization, her long training
in its noblest school, she could help the old in many ways. England, in
these respects, was like her Basil, before she had wakened him. Imogen felt
that England, too, needed her. And there was undoubtedly a satisfaction in
flashing that new world of hers, so large, so in need of her,--in flashing
it, like a bright, and, it was to be hoped, a somewhat dazzling object,
before the vexatiously imperturbable eyes of Mrs. Wake. Mrs. Wake's dry
smile of congratulation had been almost as unpleasant as Rose's silence.

From Miss Bocock there was neither smile, nor sting, nor silence to endure.
Miss Bocock had suspected nothing, either on the mother's side or on the
daughter's, and took the announcement very placidly. "Indeed. Really. How
very nice. Accept my congratulations," were her comments. Imogen at once
asked her to spend a week-end at Thremdon Hall next Spring, and Miss Bocock
in the same way said: "Thanks. That will be very nice. I've never stayed
there." There was still a subtle irritation in the fact that while Miss
Bocock now accepted her, in the order of things, as one of the "county
people," as the gracious mistress of Thremdon Hall, as very much above a
country doctor's family, she didn't seem to regard her with any more
interest or respect as an individual.

These, after all, were the superficialities of the situation; its deeper
aspects were, Imogen felt, as yet unfaced. Her mother seemed quite content
to let Imogen's silence stand for apology and retractation, quite willing
to go on, for the little further that they had to go together, in an
ambiguous relation. This was, indeed, Imogen felt, her mother's strength;
she could, apparently, put up with any amount of ambiguity and probably
looked upon it as an essential part of life. Perhaps, and here Imogen was
conscious of a twinge of anxiety, she put up with it so quietly because she
didn't recognize it in herself, in her own motives and actions; and this
thought teased at Imogen until she determined that she must stand forth in
the light and show her mother that she, too, was self-assured and she, too,
magnanimous.

She armed herself for the task by a little talk with Sir Basil, the nearest
approach they ever allowed themselves to the delicate complexities in which
they had come to recognize each other and out of which, to a certain
extent, they had had to fight their way to the present harmony. She was
with him, again, among the laurels, a favorite place with them, and Imogen
sat on her former ledge of sunny rock and Sir Basil was extended beside her
on the moss. She had been reading Emerson to him, and when the essay was
finished and she had talked to him a little about the "over-soul,"--dear
Basil's recollections of metaphysics were very confused,--she presently
said to him, letting her hand slide into his while she spoke:--"Basil,
dearest,--I want to ask you something, and you must answer very truly, for
you need never fear that I would flinch from any truth. Tell me,--did you
ever,--ever care for mama?"

Sir Basil, his hat tilted over his eyes, grew very red and looked down at
the moss for some moments without replying.

"Of course I know that, in some sense, you did care," said Imogen, a faint
tremble in her voice, a tremble that, in its sweet acquiescence to
something that was hurting her, touched him infinitely. "I know, too, that
there are loves and loves. I know that anything you may have felt for mama
is as different from what you feel for me as lamplight is from daylight. I
won't speak of it, ever, again, dear Basil; but for this once let me see
clearly what was in your past."

"I did care for her," Sir Basil jerked out at that;--"quite tremendously,
until I saw you. She will always be a dear friend, one of the dearest, most
charming people I've ever known. And, no, it wasn't like lamplight, you
know";--something in that analogy was so hurting Sir Basil that it made
him, for a moment, forget his darling's hurt;--"that wasn't it. Though,
it's quite true, you're like daylight."

"And--and--she?"--Imogen accepted the restatement, though her voice
trembled a little more.

He now looked up at her, a clear, blue ray from his honest eyes. "Well,
there, you know, it _has_ been a relief. I could never tell, in the past;
she showed me nothing, except that friendship; but since she has been free,
since I've seen her over here, she has shown me quite clearly, that it was,
on her side, only that."

Imogen was silent for a long time. She didn't "know" at all. And there was
a great deal to accept; more, oddly enough, than she had ever faced. She
had always believed that it had been like lamplight to daylight. But,
whatever it had been, the day had conquered it. And how dear, how noble of
her lover to show, so unfalteringly, his loyalty to the past. It was with a
sigh made up of many satisfactions that she said at last:--"Dear mama;--I
am so glad that I took nothing she cared for from her."

It was on that afternoon that she found her time for "standing forth in the
light" before her mother.

She didn't want it to be indoors; she felt, vaguely, that four walls would
make them too intimate, as it were; shut them into their mutual
consciousness too closely. So that when she saw her mother, after tea,
watering and gathering her flowers at the edge of the wood, she went out to
her, across the grass, sweet and mild in the long white dress that she had
worn since joy had come to her.

She wished to be very direct, very simple, very sweet.

"Mama, darling," she said, standing there beside her while Valerie, after a
quiet glance up at her, continued to cut her roses;--"I want to say
something to you. This seems such a beautiful time to say deep, grave
things in, doesn't it, this late afternoon hour? I've wanted to say it
since the other night when, through poor Jack's folly of revenge and
blindness, we were all put into such an ugly muddle, at such ugly
cross-purposes." She paused here and Valerie, giving neither assent nor
negation, said: "Yes, Imogen?"

"I want to say to you that I am sorry, mama dear";--Imogen spoke gravely
and with emphasis;--"sorry, in the first place, that I should so have
misjudged you as to imagine that--at your time of life and after your
sobering experience of life--you were involved in a love affair. I see,
now, what a wrong that was to do to you--to your dignity, your sense of
right and fitness. And I'm sorrier that I should have thought you capable
of seconding Jack's attempts to keep from me a love that had drawn to me as
a magnet to the north. The first mistake led to the second. I had heard
your friends conjecturing as to your feeling for Basil, and the pain of
suspecting that of you--my father's new-made widow--led me astray. I think
that in any great new experience one's whole nature is perhaps a little
off-balance, confused. I had suffered so much, in so many ways;--_his_
death;--Jack's unworthiness;--this fear for you;--and then, in these last
days, for what you know, mama, for _him_, because of _him_--my father, a
suffering that no joy will ever efface, that I was made, I think, for a
little time, a stranger to myself. And then came love--wonderful love--and
it shook my nature to its depths. I was dazzled, torn, tempest-tossed;--I
did not see clearly. Let that be my excuse."

Valerie still stopped over her roses, her fingers delicately, accurately
busy, and her face, under the broad brim of her hat, hidden.

Again Imogen paused, the rhythm of her words, like an echo of his voice in
her own, bringing a sudden sharp, sweet, reminiscence of her father, so
that the tears had risen to her eyes in hearing herself. And again, for all
reply, her mother once more said only: "Yes, Imogen."

It was not the reply she had expected, not the reply that she had a right
to expect, and, even out there, with the flowers, so impersonally lovely,
about them, the late radiance softly bathing them, as if in rays of
forgiveness and mild pity, even with the tears, evidences of sorrow and
magnanimity, in her eyes, Imogen felt a little at a loss, a little
confused.

"That is, all, mama," she said;--"just that I am sorry, and that I want you
to feel, in spite of all the sad, the tragic things that there have been
between us, that my deep love for you is there, and that you must trust it
always."

And now there was another silence. Valerie stooping to her flowers,
mysterious, ambiguous indeed, in her shadow, her silence.

Imogen, for all the glory of her mood, felt a thrill of anger, and the
reminiscence that came to her now was of her father's pain, his familiar
pain, for such shadows, such silences, such blights cast upon his highest
impulses. "I hope, mama, that you will always trust my love," she said,
mastering the rising of her resentment.

And once more came the monotonous answer, but given this time with a new
note:--"Yes, Imogen," her mother replied, "you may always trust my love."

She rose at that, and her eyes passed swiftly across her daughter's face,
swiftly and calmly. She was a little flushed, but that might have been from
the long bending over the flowers, and if it was a juggling dexterity that
she used, she had used it indeed so dexterously that it seemed impossible
to say anything more. Imogen could find no words in which to set the turned
tables straight.

She had imagined their little scene ending very beautifully in a grave
embrace and kiss; but no opportunity was given her for this final
demonstration of her spirit of charity. Her mother gathered up her
scissors, her watering-pot, her trowel, and handing Imogen the filled
basket of roses said, "Will you carry these for me, my dear?"

The tone of quiet, everyday kindness dispelled all glory, and set a lower
standard. Here, at this place, very much on the earth, Imogen would always
find her, it seemed to say. It said nothing else.

Yet Imogen knew, as she walked back beside her mother, knew quite as well
as if her mother had spoken the words, that her proffered love had not been
trusted, that she had been penetrated, judged, and, in some irresistible
way, a way that brought no punishment and no reproof, nor even any
lessening of affection, condemned. Her mother still loved her, that was the
helpless conviction that settled upon her; but it was as a child, not as a
personality, that she was loved,--very much as Miss Bocock respected her as
the mistress of Thremdon Hall and not at all on her own account; but her
mother, too, for all her quiet, and all her kindness, thought her
"self-centered, self-righteous, cold-hearted," and--Imogen, in a sharp pang
of insight, saw it all--because of that would not attempt any soul-stirring
appeal or arraignment. She knew too well with what arms of spiritual
assurance she would be met.

It was in silence, while they walked side by side, the basket of roses
between them, that Imogen fiercely seized these arms, fiercely parried the
unuttered arraignment, and, more fiercely, the unuttered love.

She could claim no verbal victory, she had had to endure no verbal defeat;
it was she herself who had forced this issue upon a situation that her
mother would have been content to leave undefined. Her mother would never
fix blame; her mother would never humiliate; but, she had found it to her
own cost,--though the cost was as light as her mother could make it--she
would not consent to be placed where Imogen had wished to place her. Let it
be so, then, let it end on this note of seeming harmony and of silent
discord; it was her mother's act, not her own. Truth was in her and had
made once more its appeal; once more deep had called to deep only to find
shallowness. For spiritual shallowness there must be where an appeal such
as hers could be so misunderstood and so rejected.

She was angry, sore, vindictive, though her sharp insight did not reach so
far as to tell her this; it did, however, tell her that she was wounded to
the quick. But the final refuge was in the thought that she was soon to
leave such judgments and such loves behind her for ever.



XXX


It was on a late October day that Jack Pennington rode over the hills to
Valerie's summer home.

Two months were gone since Imogen's reporter-haunted nuptials had been
celebrated in the bland little country church that raised its white steeple
from the woodlands. Jack had been present at them; decency had made that
necessary, and a certain grimness in his aspect was easily to be
interpreted in a dismal, defeated rival. It was as such, he knew, that he
was seen there.

It had been a funny wedding,--to apply none of the other terms that lay
deeper in him. In watching it from the white-wreathed chancel he had
thought of Valerie's summing-up: "Imogen is one of the people who make the
world go round." The world in every phase had been there, from the British
ambassador and the Langleys to the East Side club girls--brought up from
New York in the special train--and a flourishing consignment of cripples
and nurses. Here and there in her path Imogen might meet the blankness of a
Miss Bocock, the irony of a Mrs. Wake, a disillusion like Mary's, an
insight like his own; but the great world, in its aspect of power and
simplicity, would be with her always. He had realized as never before
Imogen's capacity, when he saw the cohorts of her friends and followers
overflow the church.

She had been a fitting center to it all; though the center, for Jack, was
Valerie, exquisite, mildly radiant, not a hint on her of dispossession or
of doom; but Imogen, white and rapt and grave, had looked almost as
wonderful as on the day when she had first dawned upon Sir Basil's vision.

Jack, watching her uplifted profile as she stood at the altar-rail, found
himself trivially, spitefully, irrelevantly murmuring:--"Her nose _is_ too
small." And yet she looked more than ever like a Botticelli Madonna.

Rose and Eddy were to be married that winter in New York, a gigantic
opportunity for the newspapers, for already half the world seemed trooping
to the festivities. Afterward, with old-fashioned Americanism, they would
live in quite a little house and try to forget about Rose's fortune until
Eddy made his.

Valerie was to have none of the bother of this wedding. Mrs. Packer, a
mournful, jeweled, faded little beauty, was well fitted to cope with such
emergencies. Her secretaries sat already with pens poised.

Imogen's wedding had kept her mother working like a galley-slave, so Rose
told Jack, with the familiarity that was now justifiable in one who was
almost of the family, and that Eddy had told her, with much disgust of
demeanor, that its financing had eaten pretty deeply into his mother's
shrunken means. Rose made no open denunciation; she, no more than anyone
else, could guess from Jack's silence what his feeling about Imogen might
really be. But she was sure that he was well _over_ her, and that, above
all, he was one of the elect who _saw_ Mrs. Upton; she could allow herself
a musing survey of all that the mother had done for the daughter, adding,
and it was really with a wish for strict justice: "Of course Imogen never
had any idea of money, and she'll never realize what she cost." In another
and a deeper sense it might be that that was the kindest as well as the
truest thing to say of Imogen.

Since the wedding he knew that Valerie had been quietly at the little house
among the hills, alone for the most part, though Mrs. Wake was often with
her and the Pakenhams had paid her a visit on their way back to England.
Now Mrs. Wake was gone back to New York, and her own departure was to take
place in a few days. Jack, spending a week-end with friends not beyond
riding distance, felt that he must see her again in the surroundings where
he had come to know her so well and to know himself as so changed.

He rode over the crests of hills in the flaming, aromatic woods. The fallen
leaves paved his way with gold. In the deep distances, before him a still,
blue haze, like the bloom on ripe grape-clusters, lay over the purples of
the lower ranges. Above, about, before him was the blue sky of the
wonderful American "fall," high, clear, crystalline. The air was like an
elixir. Jack's eyes were for all this beauty,--"the vast, unconscious
scenery of my land," the line that drifted in his thoughts,--his own
consciousness, taken up into his contemplation, seeming as vast and as
unperplexed. But under his calm, his happy sadness, that, too, seemed a
part of the day, ran, like the inner echo to the air's intoxication, a
stream of deep, still excitement.

He did not think directly of Valerie, but vague pictures passed,
phantom-like, before his mind. He saw her in her garden, gathering late
flowers; he saw her reading under the fringe of vine-leaves and tendrils;
he saw her again in the wintry New York of snow, sunlight, white, gold and
blue, or smiling down from the high-decked steamer against a sky of frosty
rose; he saw her on all possible and adequate backgrounds of the land he so
loved. But,--oh, it was here that the under-current, the stream of
excitement seemed to rise, foaming, circling, submerging him, choking him,
with tides of grief and desolation,--seeing her, too, in that land she
loved;--not in the Surrey garden, no, no,--that was shut to her for
ever;--but in some other, some distant garden, high-walled, the pale gold
and gray of an autumnal sunset over its purpling bricks, or on a
flower-dappled common in spring, or in spring woods filled with wild
hyacinths and primroses. How he could see her, place her, over there, far,
far away, from his country--and from him.

It was, after the last sharp trot, the last leisurely uphill canter, on the
bordering, leaf-strewn grass of the winding road, where the white walls and
gray roof of the little house showed among the trees, that all the
undercurrent seemed to center in a knot of suffocating expectancy and pain.

And Valerie, while Jack so rode, so approached her, was fulfilling one of
his visions. She had spent the afternoon in her garden, digging, planting,
"messing" as she expressed it, very happily among her borders, where late
flowers, purple and white and gold, still bloomed. She was planning all
sorts of things for her garden, a row of double-cherry-trees to stand at
the edges of the woods and be symbols of paradise in spring, with their
deep upon deep of miraculous white. Little almond-trees, too, frail sprays
of pink on a spring sky, and quince-trees that would show in autumn among
ample foliage the pale gold of their softly-furred fruit. She wanted spring
flowers to run back far into the woods, the climbing roses and honeysuckle
to make summer delicious among the vines of the veranda. The afternoon,
full of such projects, passed pleasantly, and when she came in and dressed
for her solitary tea, she felt pleasantly tired. She walked up and down the
drawing-room, its white walls warm with the reflections of outer sunlight,
listening vaguely to the long trail of her black tea-gown behind her,
looking vaguely from the open windows at the purple distances set in their
nearer waves of flame.

At the end of the room, before the austere little mantelpiece, she paused
presently to look at herself in the austere little mirror with its
compartments of old gilt; at herself, the illuminated white of the room
behind her reflection. A narrow crystal vase mirrored itself beside her
leaning arm, and its one tall rose, set among green leaves and russet stems
and thorns, spread depths of color near her cheek. Valerie's eyes went from
her face to the rose. The rose was fresh, glowing, perfect. Her face,
lovely still, was faded.

She stood there, leaning beside the flower, the fingers of her supporting
hand sunken deep in the chestnut masses of her hair, and noted, gravely,
earnestly, the delicate signs and seals of stealing age.

Never, never again would her face be like the rose, young, fresh, perfect.
And she herself was no longer young; in her heart she knew the stillness,
the droop, the peace--almost the peace--of softly-falling petals.

How young she had been, how lovely, how full of sweetness. That was the
thought that pierced her suddenly, the thought of wasted sweetness,
unrecorded beauty, unnoted, unloved, all to go, to pass away for ever. It
seemed hardly for herself she grieved, but for the doom of all youth and
loveliness; for the fleeting, the impermanence of all life. The vision of
herself passed to a vision of the other roses, the drooping, the doomed,
scattering their petals in the chill breeze of coming winter.

"Poor things," was her thought,--her own self-pity had part only in its
inclusiveness,--"summer is over for all of us."

And with the thought, girlishly, still girlishly, she hid her face upon her
arms as she stood there, murmuring:--"Ah, I hate, I hate getting old."

A step at the door roused her. She turned to see Jack entering.

Jack looked very nice in the tans and russets of his riding-tweeds and
gaiters. The chill air had brought a clear color to his cheeks; the pale
gold of his hair,--one unruly lock, as usual, over-long, lying across his
forehead,--shone like sunlight; his gray eyes looked as deep and limpid as
a mountain pool.

Valerie was very, very glad to see him. He embodied the elixir, the color,
the freshness of the world to-day: and oh how young--how young--how
fortunately, beautifully young he looked;--that was the thought that met
him from the contrast of the mirror.

She gave him her hands in welcome, and they sat down near a window where
the sunlight fell upon them and the breeze blew in upon them, she on a
little sofa, among chintz cushions, he on a low chair beside her; and while
they talked, that excitement, that pain and expectancy grew in Jack.

The summer was over and, soon, it must be, she would go. With a wave of
sadness that sucked him back and swept him forward in a long, sure ache,
came the knowledge, deeper than before, of his own desolation. But, sitting
there beside her in the October sunlight; feeling, with the instinct, so
quick, so sensitive in him, that it was in sadness he had found her, the
desolation wasn't so much for himself as for her, what she represented and
stood for. He, too, seeing her face with the blooming rose beside it, had
known her piercing thought.

She was going; but in other senses, too. She had begun to go; and all the
sacrifices, the relinquishments, the acceptances of the summer, were the
first steps of departure. She had done with things and he, who had not yet
done with them, was left behind. Already the signs of distance were upon
her--he saw them as she had seen them--her distance from the world of
youth, of hope, of effort.

A thin veil, like the sad-sweet haze over the purpling hills, seemed to
waver between them; the veil that, for all its melting elusiveness, parts
implacably one generation from another. Its dimness seemed to rest on her
bright hair and to hover in her bright eyes; to soften, as with a faint
melancholy, the brightness of her smile. And it was as if he saw her, with
a little sigh, unclasp her hands, that had clung to what she fancied to be
still her share of life,--unclasp her hands, look round her with a slight
amaze at the changed season where she found herself, and, after the
soundless pause of recognition, bend her head consentingly to the quiet,
obliterating snows of age. And once more his own change, his own initiation
to subtler standards, was marked by the fact that when the old, ethical
self, still over-glib with its assurances, tried to urge upon him that all
was for the best in a wonderful world, ventured to murmur an axiom or so as
to the grace, the dignity, the added spiritual significance of old age, the
new self, awakened to tragedy, turned angry eyes upon that vision of the
rose in the devastated garden, and once more muttered, in silence:--"Damn!"

They had talked of the past and of the coming marriage, very superficially,
in their outer aspects; they had talked of his summer wanderings and of the
Pakenhams' visit to Vermont. She had given him tea and she had told him of
her plans for the winter;--she had given up the New York house, and had
taken a little flat near Mrs. Wake's, that she was going to move to in a
few days from now. And Jack said at last, feeling that with the words he
dived from shallows into deeps:--"And--when are you going back?--back to
England?"

"Going back?"--She repeated his words with vagueness.

"Yes; to where you've always liked to live."

"Yes; I liked living there," said Valerie, still with vagueness in her
contemplative "yes."

"And still like it."

She seemed to consider. "Things have changed, you know. It was change I
used to want, I looked for it, perhaps mistakenly. Now it has come of
itself. And I feel a great unwillingness to move on again."

The poignant vision of something bruised, dimmed, listless, was with him,
and it was odd to hear himself urging:--"But in the meantime, you, too,
have changed. The whole thing over here, the thing we so care for, isn't
yours. You don't really care about it much, if at all. It doesn't really
please you. It gives you with effort what you can get with ease, over
there, and it must jar on you, often. We are young; crude; all the
over-obvious things that are always said of us; our enthusiasms are too
facile; our standards of achievement, in the things you care for, rather
second-rate; oh, you know well enough what I mean. We are not crystallized
yet into a shape that's really comfortable for a person like you:--perhaps
we never shall be; perhaps I hope that we never shall be. So why shouldn't
you go to a place where you can have all the things you like?"

She listened to him in silence, with, at the end, a slight smile for the
exactitude of his: "Perhaps I hope that we never shall be;"--and she paused
now as if his portrayal of her own wants required consideration. "Perhaps,"
she said at length, "perhaps I never cared so much about all those things."

"Oh, but you do," said Jack with conviction.

"You mean, I suppose, all the things people over here go away so much to
get. No, I don't think so. It was never really that. I don't think"--and
she seemed to be thinking it out for herself as well as for him--"that I've
ever been so conscious of standards--crystallizations--the relative values
and forms of things. What I wanted was freedom. Not that I was ever
oppressed or ill-treated, far from it;--but I was too--uncomfortable. I was
like a bird forced to live like a fish, or perhaps we had better say, like
a fish forced to live like a bird. That was why I went. I couldn't breathe.
And, yes, I like the life over there. It's very easy and gliding; it
protects you from jars; it gives you beauty for the asking;--here we have
to make it as a rule. I like the people, too, and their unconsciousness.
One likes us, you know, Jack, for what is conscious in us--and it's so much
that there's hardly a bit of us that isn't conscious. We know our way all
over ourselves, as it were, and can put all of ourselves into the window if
we want someone else to know us. One often likes them for their
unconsciousness, for all the things behind the window, all the things they
know nothing at all about, the things that are instinctive, background
things. It makes a more peaceful feeling. One can wander about dim rooms,
as it were, and rest in them; one doesn't have to recognize, and respond so
much. Yes, I shall miss it all, in a great many ways. But I like it here,
too. For one thing, there is a great deal more to do."

Jack, in some bewilderment, was grasping at clues. One was that, as he had
long ago learned of her, she was incapable of phrases, even when they were
sincere, incapable of dramatizing herself, even if her situation lent
itself to tragic interpretations. Uncomfortable?--was that all that she
found to say of her life, her suffocating life, among the fishes? She could
put it aside with that. And as for the rest, he realized suddenly, with a
new illumination--at what a late date it was for him to reach it; he, who
had thought that he knew her so well!--that she cared less, in reality, for
all those "things" lacking in the life of her native land than the bulk of
her conscious, anxious countrymen. Cared not enough, his old self of
judgment and moral appraisement would have pronounced. She wasn't
intellectual, nor was she esthetic; that was the funny part of it, about a
person whose whole being diffused a sense of completeness that was like a
perfume. Art, culture, a complicated social life, being on the top of
things, as it were, were not the objects of her concentration. It was
indeed her indifference to them, her independence of them, that made her,
for his wider consciousness, oddly un-American.

In the midst of bewilderment and illumination one thing stood clear, a
trembling joy; he had to make assurance doubly sure. "If you are not going
away, what _will_ you do?"

"I don't know";--he would, once, have rebuked the smile with which she said
it as indolent;--"I wasn't thinking of anything definite, for myself. I'll
watch other people do--you, for instance, Jack. I shall spend most of my
time here in the country; New York is so expensive; I shall garden--wait
till you see what I make of this in a few years' time; I shall look after
Rose and Eddy--at a tactful distance."

"But your wider life? Your many friends, over there?" Jack still protested,
fearing that he saw more clearly than she to what a widow with a tiny,
crippled fortune was consigning herself in this country of the young and
striving. "You need gaiety, brilliancy, big, bright vistas." It was strange
to hear himself urging his thought for her against that inner throb. Again
she gave him her grave, brief smile. "You forget, Jack, that I'm--cured.
I'm quite old enough not to mind giving up."

The warm, consoling assurance was with him, of her presence near his life;
but under it the excitement, the pain, had so risen that he wondered if she
did not read them in his eyes.

The evening was growing late; the sky had turned to a pale, translucent
gold, streaked, over the horizon, by thin, cold, lilac-colored clouds. He
must go, leaving her there, alone, and, in so doing, he would leave
something else behind him forever. For it was now, as the veil fell upon
her, as the evening fell over the wide earth, it was now or never that he
could receive the last illumination. He hardly saw clearly what that might
be; it wavered like a hovering light behind the mist.

He rose and walked up and down the room a little; pausing to look from the
windows at the golden sky; pausing to look, now and then, at her, sitting
there in her long, black dress, vaguely shadowed on the outer light,
smiling, tranquil, yet sad, so sad.

"So, our summer is at an end," he said, turning at last from the window.
"The air has a frosty tang already. I suppose I must be off. I shall not
see you again until New York. I'm glad--I'm glad that you are to be there";
and now he stammered suddenly, a little--"more glad than I can say."

"Thanks, Jack," she answered, her eyes fondly dwelling on him. "You are one
of the things I would not like to leave."

Again he walked up and down, and seemed to hear the steady flow of that
still, deep excitement. Why, above it, should he say silly, meaningless
words, that were like a bridge thrown over it to lead him from her?

"I want to tell you one thing, just one, before I go," he said. He knew
that, with his sudden resolution, his voice had changed and, to quiet
himself, he stood before her and put both hands on the back of a chair that
was between them. He couldn't go on building that bridge. He must dare
something, even if something else he must not dare--unless, unless she let
him. "I must tell you that you are the most enchanting person I have ever
known."

She looked at him quietly, though she was startled, not quite
understanding, and she said a little sadly: "Only that, Jack?"

"Yes, only that, for you, because you don't need the trite, obvious labels
that one affixes to other people. You don't need me to say that you are
good or true or brave;--it's like a delicate seal that comprises and
expresses everything,--the trite things and the strange, lovely
things--when I say that you are enchanting." He held his mind, so
conscious, under the words, of what he must not say, to the intellectual
preoccupation of making her see, at all events, just what the words he
could say meant.

But as his voice rang, tense, vibrant as a tightened cord in the still
room, as his eyes sank into hers, Valerie felt in her own dying youth the
sudden echo to all he dared not say.

She had never seen, quick as she was to see the meaning behind words and
looks. She suspected that he, also, had never seen it clearly till now.

Other claims had dropped from them; the world was gone; they were alone,
his eyes on hers; and between them was the magic of life.

Yes, she had it still, the gift, the compelling charm. His eyes in their
young strength and fear and adoration called to her life, and with a touch,
a look, she could bring to it this renewal and this solace. And, behind her
sorrow, her veil, her relinquishment, Valerie was deeply thrilled.

The thrill went through her, but even while she knew it, it hardly moved
her. No; the relinquishment had been too deep. She had lost forever, in
losing the other. That had been to turn her back on life, or, rather, to
see it turn its back on her, forever. Not without an ugly crash of inner,
twisted discord could she step once more from the place of snow, or hold
out her hand to love.

All his life was before him, but for her--; for her it was finished. And as
she mastered the thrill, as she turned from the vision of what his eyes
besought and promised, a flow of pity, pity for his youth and pain and for
all the long way he was yet to go, filled her, bringing peace, even while
the sweetness of the unsought, undreamed of offering made her smile again,
a trembling smile.

"Dear Jack, thank you," she said.

Suddenly, before her smile, her look, he flushed deeply, taking from her
eyes what his own full meaning had been. Already it was in the past, the
still-born hope; it was dead before he gazed upon it; but he must hear the
death-warrant from her lips, it was not enough to see it, so gentle, so
pitiful, so loving, in her eyes, and he heard himself stammering:--"You--
you haven't anything else you can say to me?"

She had found her answer in a moment, and now indeed she was at the helm,
steering them both past white shores, set in such depths of magical blue,
white shores where sirens sang. Never could they land there, never listen
to the song. And already she seemed to hear it, as if from a far distance,
ringing, sharp and strange with the swiftness of their flight, as she
replied: "Nothing else, dear Jack, except that I wish you were my son."

The enchanted island had sunk below the horizon. They were landed, and on
the safest, sanest, shores. She knew that she had achieved her own place,
and that from it, secure, above him, the veil between them, her smile was
the smile of motherhood. To smile so was to put before him finally the fact
that her enchantment contradicted and helplessly lured him to forget. She
would never forget it now, nor could he. She was Imogen's mother, and she
was old enough to be his.

From her smile, her eyes, common-sense flooded Jack, kind, yet stinging,
too, savoring of a rescue from some hidden danger,--not his--not his--his
was none of the common-sense,--but hers. He might had she let him, have so
dislocated her life.

He was scarlet, stammering. He knew that he hid nothing from her now, that
he didn't want or need to hide anything. Those benign, maternal eyes would
understand. And he smiled, too, but also with a trembling smile, as he
reached out to her hand, holding it tightly and saying, gazing at her:--"I
love you so."

Her hand held his, in farewell now, but her look up at him promised
everything, everything for the future,--except the one now shrouded thing.
"And I love you, dear Jack," she said. "You have taken the place of--almost
everything."

And then, for she saw the tears in his eyes, and knew that his heart was
bleeding, not for himself alone, she rose and took his head between her
hands, and, like a mother, kissed him above his eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

When he had left her,--and they said no further word,--Valerie did not
again relapse into a despondent attitude.

The sky was like a deep rose, soft, dim, dying, and the color of the
afterglow filled the room.

Standing at the window she breathed in the keen, sweet air, and looked from
the dying day down to her garden.

She had watched Jack disappear among the trees, waving to him, and her
heart followed his aching heart with comprehending pity. But, from her
conquest of the thrill, a clear, contemplative insight was left with her,
so that, looking out over the lives she was to watch, she felt herself, for
all her sadness, a merry, if a serious fate, mingling the threads of
others' fortunes with a benignant hand.

Imogen's threads had snapped off very sharply. Imogen would be the better
pleased that the Surrey cottage should know her no more. The pang for the
wrecking of all maternal hope passed strangely into a deeper pang for all
that the Surrey cottage stood for in her life, all the things that she had
left to come to Imogen. She remembered. And, for a moment, the old vortex
of whirling anguish almost engulfed her. Only long years could deaden the
pang of that parting. She would not dwell on that. Eddy and Rose; to turn
to them was to feel almost gay. Jack and Mary;--yes, on these last names
her thoughts lingered and her gaze for them held tender presages. That must
be.

Jack would not know how her maternal solicitude was to encompass him and
mold his way. If the benignant fate saw clearly, Jack and Mary were to
marry. Strange that it should not be from anything of her own that the
deepest call upon her fostering tenderness came. She wasn't needed by
anything of her own. This was the tragedy of her life that, more than youth
passed and love renounced, seemed to drift snows upon her.

But, beyond the personal pang and failure, she could look down at her
garden and out at the quiet, evening vistas. The very flowers seemed to
smile gentle promises to her, and to murmur that, after all, rather than
bitterness, failure was to bring humble peace.

Leaning her head against the window, where in the breeze the curtain softly
flapped, she looked out at the tranquil twilight, contented to be sad.

"I will have friends with me," she said to herself; "I will garden and
learn a new language. I will read a great many books." And, with a sense of
happy daring, not rebuked by reason, she could add, thinking of the mingled
threads:--"I will have them often here to stay with me, and, perhaps, they
will let me spoil the babies."





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