Part 1 out of 6
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A FOUNTAIN SEALED
ANNE DOUGLAS SEDGWICK
(Mrs. Basil de Selincourt)
Author of 'The Little French Girl,' 'Franklin Winslow Kane,' 'Tante,' etc.
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"I'm so sorry. Have you been feeling it much? Leave the door into the hall
"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
"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
"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.
"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
"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.
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 tete-a-tete
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 nebula 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
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 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,
"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
"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
"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 beaute_,
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?"
"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
"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
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
"But, after all, now that she's free, that is enough."
"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 _a 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."
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
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
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
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
"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
"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,
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."
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
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
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,"
"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
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 beaute_ 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."
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
epergne 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 Sevres 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
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
"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
"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
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
"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 _ondulee_, _parfumee_,
polished person with such fashionable mourning would be, perhaps, a little
"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
"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
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
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
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;