Part 2 out of 6
the seeing of her own personality as but an instrument in the service of
good--these were the chief words of the gospel. Life in its realest sense
meant only this dedication. To serve, to love, to be the truth. Her eyes
on her father's pictured eyes, Imogen smiled into them, promising him and
herself that she would not fail.
It was in the library next morning that Valerie asked Imogen to join her,
and the girl, who had come into the room with her light, soft step, paused
to kiss her mother's forehead before going to the opposite seat.
"Deep in ways and means, mamma dear?" she asked her. "Why, you are quite
a business woman." "Quite," Valerie replied. "I have been going over
things with Mr. Haliwell, you know." She smiled thoughtfully at Imogen,
preoccupied, as the girl could see, by what she had to say.
Imogen was slightly ruffled by the flavor of assurance that she felt in
her mother, as of someone who, after gently and vaguely fumbling about for
a clue to her own meaning in new conditions, had suddenly found something
to which she held very firmly. Imogen was rejoiced for her that she
should find a field of real usefulness-were it only that of housekeeping
and seeing to weekly bills; but there was certainly a touch of the
inappropriate, perhaps of the grotesque, in any assumption on her mother's
part of maturity and competence. She therefore smiled back at her with
much the same tolerantly interested smile that a parent might bestow on a
child's brick-building of a castle.
"I'm so glad that you have that to give yourself to, mama dear," she said.
"You shall most certainly be our business woman and add figures and keep
an eye on investment to your heart's content. I know absolutely nothing of
the technical side of money--I've thought of it only as an instrument, a
responsibility, a power given me in trust for others."
Valerie, whose warmth of tint and softness of outline seemed dimmed and
sharpened, as though by a controlled anxiety, glanced at her daughter,
gravely and a little timidly. And as, in silence, she lightly dotted her
pen over the paper under her hand, uncertain, apparently, with what words
to approach the subject, it was Imogen, again, who spoke, kindly, but with
a touch of impatience.
"We mustn't be too long over our talk, dear. I must meet Miss Bocock at
"Miss Bocock?" Valerie was vague. "Have I met her?"
"Not yet. She is a _protegee_ of mine--English--a Newnham woman--a
folk-lorist. I heard of her from some Boston friends, read her books, and
induced her to come over and lecture to us this winter. We are arranging
about the lectures now. I've got up a big class for her--when I say 'I,' I
mean, of course, with the help of all my dear, good friends who are always
so ready to back me up in my undertakings. She is an immensely interesting
woman; ugly, dresses tastelessly; but one doesn't think of that when one is
listening to her. She has a wonderful mind; strong, disciplined,
stimulating. I'm very happy that I've been able to give America to her and
her to America."
"She must be very interesting," said Valerie. "I shall like hearing her. We
will get through our business as soon as possible so that you may keep your
appointment." And now, after this digression, she seemed to find it easier
to plunge. "You knew that your father had left very little money, Imogen."
Imogen, her hands lightly folded in her lap, sat across the table, all mild
"No, I didn't, mama. We never talked about money, he and I."
"No; still--you spent it."
"Papa considered himself only a steward for what he had. He used his money,
he did not hoard it, mama dear. Indeed, I know that his feeling against
accumulations of capital, against all private property, unless used for the
benefit of all, was very strong."
"Yes," said Valerie, after a slight pause, in which she did not raise her
eyes from the paper where her pen now drew a few neat lines. "Yes. But
he has left very little for Eddy, very little for you; it was that I was
At this Imogen's face from gentle grew very grave.
"Mama dear, I don't think that you and papa would have agreed about the
upbringing of a man. You have the European standpoint; we don't hold with
that over here. We believe in equipping the man, giving him power for
independence, and we expect him to make his own way. Papa would rather have
had Eddy work on the roads for his bread than turn him into a _faineant_."
Valerie drew her lines into a square before saying, "I, you know, with Mr.
Haliwell, am one of your trustees. He tells me that your father gave you a
"Whatever I asked. He had perfect trust in me. Our aims were the same."
"And how did you spend it? Don't imagine that I'm finding fault."
"Oh, I know that you couldn't well do that!" said Imogen with a smile a
little bitter. "I spent very little on myself." And she continued, with
somewhat the manner of humoring an exacting child: "You see, I helped a
great many people; I sent two girls to college; I sent a boy--such a dear,
fine boy--for three years' art-study in Paris; he is getting on so well.
There is my girls' club on the East side, my girls' club in Vermont; there
is the Crippled Children's Home,--quite numberless charities I'm interested
in. It's been one thing after another, money has not lacked,--but time has,
to answer all the claims upon me. And then," here Imogen smiled again,
"I believe in the claims of the self, too, when they are disciplined
and harmonized into a larger experience. There has been music to keep
up; friends to see and to make things nice for; flowers to send to sick
friends; concerts to send poor friends to; dinners and lunches to give so
that friends may meet--all the thousand and one little things that a large,
rich life demands of one."
"Yes, yes," said Valerie, who had nodded at intervals during the list.
"I quite see all that. You are a dear, generous child and love to give
pleasure; and your father refused you nothing. It's my fault, too. My more
mercenary mind should have been near to keep watch. Because, as a, result,
there's very little, dear, very, very little."
"Oh, your being here would not have changed our ideas as to the right way
to spend money, mama. Don't blame yourself for that. We should have bled
"Oh, no, you wouldn't," Valerie said quickly. "I've too much of the
instinctive, selfish mother-thing in me to have allowed myself to be bled
for cripples and clubs and artistic boys. I don't care about them a bit
compared to you and Eddy. But this is all beside the mark. The question now
is, What are we to do? Because that generous, expensive life of yours has
come to an end, for the present at all events."
Imogen at this sat silent for some moments, fixing eyes of deep, and
somewhat confused, cogitation upon her mother's face.
"Why--but--I supposed that you _had_ minded for Eddy and me, mama," she
said at last.
"I have very little money, Imogen."
Imogen hesitated, blushing a little, before saying, "Surely you were quite
rich when papa married you."
"Hardly rich; but, yes, quite well off."
"And you spent it all--on yourself?"
Valerie's color, too, had faintly risen. "Not so much on myself, Imogen,
though I wish now that I had been more economical; but I was ignorant
of your father's rather reckless expenditure. In the first years of my
marriage, before the selfish mother-thing was developed in me, I handed a
good deal of my capital over to him, for his work, his various projects; in
order to leave him as free for these projects as possible, I educated you
and Eddy--that, too, came out of my capital. And the building of the house
in Vermont swallowed a good deal of money."
Imogen's blush had deepened. "Of course," she said, "there is no more
reckless expenditure possible--since you use the term, mama--than keeping
up two establishments for one family; that, of course, was your own choice.
But, putting that aside, you must surely, still, have a good deal left. See
how you live; see how you are taken care of, with a maid,--I've never had
a maid, papa, as you know, thought them self-indulgences,--see how you
dress," she cast a glance upon the refinements of her mother's black.
"How I dress, my child! May I ask what that dress you have on cost you?"
"I believe only in getting the best. This, for the best, was inexpensive.
One hundred dollars."
"Twenty pounds," Valerie translated, as if to impress the sum more fully on
her mind. "I know that clothes over here are ruinous. Now mine cost only
eight pounds and was made by a very little woman in London."
Imogen cast another glance, now of some helpless wonder, at the dress.
"Of course you are so clever about such things; I shouldn't wish to spend
my thought--and I couldn't spend my time--on clothes. And then the standard
of wages is so scandalously low in Europe; I confess that I would rather
not profit by it."
"I am a very economical woman, Imogen," said Valerie, with some briskness
of utterance. "My cottage in Surrey costs me fifty pounds a year. I keep
two maids, my own maid, a cook, a gardener; there's a pony and trap and a
stable-boy. I have friends with me constantly and pay a good many visits.
Yet my income is only eight hundred pounds a year."
"Eight hundred--four thousand dollars," Imogen translated, a note of sharp
alarm in her voice. "That, of course, would not be nearly enough for all of
"Not living as you have, certainly, dear."
"But papa? Surely papa has left something! He must have made money at his
"Never much. His profession was always a by-issue with him. I find that his
affairs are a good deal involved; when all the encumbrances are cleared
off, we think, Mr. Haliwell and I, that we may secure an amount that will
bring our whole income to about five thousand dollars a year. If we go on
living in New York it will require the greatest care to be comfortable on
that. We must find a flat somewhere, unless you cared to live in England,
where we could be very comfortable indeed, without effort, on what we
Imogen was keeping a quiet face, but her mother, with a pang of helpless
pity and compunction, saw tears near the surface, and that, to control
them, she fixed herself on the meaning of the last words. "Live out of my
own country! Never!"
"No, dear, I didn't think that you would want to; I didn't want it for you,
either; I only suggested it so that you might see clearly just where we
stand, and in case you might prefer it, with our limited means."
Imogen's next words broke out even more vehemently. "I can't leave this
house! I _can't_! It is my home." The tears ran down her face.
"My poor darling!" her mother exclaimed. She rose quickly and came round
the table to her, putting her arm around her and trying to draw her near.
But Imogen, covering her eyes with one hand, held her off. "It's wrong.
It's unfair. I should have been told before."
"Imogen, _I_ did not know. I was not admitted to your father's confidence.
I used to speak to you sometimes, you must remember, about being careful."
"I never thought about it. I thought he made a great deal--I thought you
had a great deal of money," Imogen sobbed.
"It _is_ my fault, in one sense, I know," her mother said, still standing
beside her, her hand on her shoulder. "If I had been here I could have
prevented some of it. But--it has seemed so inevitable." The tears rose in
Valerie's eyes also; she looked away to conquer them. "Don't blame me too
much, dear. I shall try to do my best now. And then, after all, it's not of
such tragic importance, is it? We can be very happy with what we have."
Imogen wept on: "Leave my home!"
"There, there. Don't cry so. We won't leave it. We will manage somehow. We
will stay on here, for a time at least--until you marry, Imogen. You will
probably marry," and Valerie attempted a softly rallying smile, "before so
But the attempt was an unfortunately timed one. "Oh, mama!
don't--don't--bring your horrible European point of view into _that_, too!"
"What point of view? Indeed, indeed, dear, I didn't mean to hurt you, to be
"The economic, materialistic, worldly point of view--that money problems
can be solved by a thing that is sacred, sacred!" Imogen passionately
declared, her face still hidden.
Her mother now guessed that the self-abandonment was over and that, with
recovered control, she found it difficult to pick up her usual dignity. The
insight added to her tenderness. She touched the girl's hair softly, said,
in a soothing voice, that she had meant nothing, nothing gross or
unfeeling, and, seeing that her nearness was not, at the moment, welcome,
returned to her own place at the other end of the table.
Imogen now dried her eyes. In the consternation that her mother's
statements had caused her there had, indeed, almost at once, arisen the
consoling figure of Jack Pennington, and she did not know whether she were
the more humiliated by her own grief, for such a mercenary cause, or by
this stilling of it, this swift realization that the cramped life need
last no longer, for herself, than she chose. To feel so keenly the need of
escape was to feel herself imprisoned by the new conditions; for never,
never for one moment, must the need of escape weigh with her in her
decision as to Jack's place in her life. She must accept the burden, not
knowing that it would ever be lifted, and with this acceptance the sense of
humiliation left her, so that she could more clearly see that she had had a
right to her dismay. Her crippled life would hurt not only herself, but all
that she meant to others--her beneficence, her radiance, her loving power;
so hurt it, that, for one dark moment, had come just a dart of severity
toward her father. The memory of her mother's implied criticism had
repulsed it; dear, wonderful, transcendentalist, she must be worthy of him
and not allow her thoughts, in their coward panic, to sink to the mother's
level. This was the deepest call upon her courage that had ever come to
her. Calls to courage were the very breath of the spiritual life. Imogen
lifted her heart to the realm of spirit, where strength was to be found,
and, though her mother, with those implied criticisms, had pierced her, she
could now, with her recovered tranquility of soul, be very patient with
her. In a voice slightly muffled and uncertain, but very gentle, she said
that she thought it best to live on in the dear home. "We must retrench in
other places, mama. I would rather give up almost anything than this. _He_
is here to me." Her tears rose again, but they were no longer tears of
bitterness. "It would be like leaving him."
"Yes, dear, yes; that shall be as you wish," said Valerie, who was deeply
considering what these retrenchments should be. She, too, was knowing a
qualm of humiliation over self-revelations. She had not expected that it
would be really so painful, in such trivial matters, to adjust herself to
the most ordinary maternal sacrifices. It only showed her the more plainly
how fatal, how almost fatal, it was to the right impulses, to live away
from family ties; so that at their first pressure upon her, in a place that
sharply pinched, she found herself rueful.
For the first retrenchment, of course, must be the sending back to
England of her dear, staunch Felkin, who had taken such care of her for
so many years. Her heart was heavy with the thought. She was very fond
of Felkin, and to part with her would be, in a chill, almost an ominous
way, like parting with the last link that bound her to "over there."
Besides,--Valerie was a luxurious woman,--unpleasant visions went through
her mind of mud to be brushed off and braid to be put on the bottoms of
skirts; stockings to darn-she was sure that it was loathsome to darn
stockings; buttons to keep in their places; all the thousand and one little
rudiments of life, to which one had never had to give a thought, looming,
suddenly, in the foreground of one's consciousness. And how very tiresome
to do one's own hair. Well, it couldn't be helped. She accepted the
accompanying humiliation, finding no refuge in Imogen's spiritual
"Eddy leaves Harvard this spring and goes into Mr. Haliwell's office. He
will live with us here, then. And we can be very economical about food and
clothes; I can help little dressmakers with yours, you know," she said,
smiling at her child.
"Everything, mama, everything must be done, rather than leave this house."
"We mustn't let the girls' clubs suffer, either," Valerie attempted further
to lighten the other's gloomy resolution. "That's one of the first claims."
"I must balance all claims, with justice. I have many other calls upon me,
dear, and it will need earnest thought to know which to eliminate."
"Well, the ones you care about most are the ones we'll try to fit in."
"My caring is not the standard, mama. The ones that need me most are the
ones I shall fit in."
Imogen rose, drawing a long, sighing breath. Under her new and heavy
burden, her mother, in these suggestions for the disposal of her life,
was glib, assured. But the necessity for tenderness and forbearance was
strongly with her. She went round the table to Valerie, pressed her head to
her breast and kissed her forehead, saying, "Forgive me if I have seemed
"No, dear, no; I quite understood all you felt," Valerie said, returning
the kiss. But, after Imogen had left her, she sat for a long time, very
still, her hand only moving, as she traced squares and circles on her
Jack thought that he had never seen Imogen looking graver than on that
night when he came again. Her face seemed calm only because she so
compressed and controlled all sorts of agitating things. Her mother was
with her in the lamp-lit library and he guessed already that, in any case,
Imogen, before her mother, would rarely show gaiety and playfulness. Gaiety
and playfulness would seem to condone the fact that her mother found so
little need of help in "bearing" the burden of her regret and of her
self-reproach. But, allowing for that fact, Imogen's gravity was more than
negative. It confronted him like a solemn finger laid on firmly patient
lips; he felt it dwell upon him like solemn eyes while he shook hands with
Mrs. Upton, whom he had not seen since the morning of her arrival.
Mrs. Upton, too, was grave, after a fashion; but her whole demeanor might
be decidedly irritating to a consciousness so burdened with a sense of
change as Imogen 'a evidently was. Even before that finger, those eyes,
into which he had symbolized Imogen's manner, Mrs. Upton's gravity could
break into a smile quite undisturbed, apparently, by any inappropriateness.
She sat near the lamp crocheting; soft, white wool sliding through her
fingers and wave after wave of cloudy substance lengthening a tiny baby's
jacket, so very small a jacket that Jack surmised it to be a gift for an
expectant mother. He further surmised that Mrs. Upton would be very nice to
expectant mothers; that they would like to have her abound.
Mrs. Upton would not curb her smile on account of Imogen's manner, nor
would she recognize it to the extent of tacitly excluding her from the
conversation. She seemed, indeed, to pass him on, in all she said, to
Imogen, and Jack, once more, found his situation between them a little
difficult, for if Mrs. Upton passed him on, Imogen was in no hurry to
receive him. He had, once or twice, the sensation of being stranded, and
it was always Mrs. Upton who felt his need and who pushed him off into the
ease of fresh questions.
He was going back to Boston the next day and asked Imogen if he could take
any message to Mary Osborne.
"Thank you, Jack," said Imogen, "but I write to Mary, always, twice a week.
She depends on my letters."
"When is she coming to you again?"
"I am afraid she is not to come at all, now."
"You're not going away?" the young man asked sharply, for her voice of sad
acceptance implied something quite as sorrowful.
"Oh, no!" Imogen answered, "but mama does not feel that I can have my
friend here now."
Jack, stranded indeed, looked his discomfort and, glancing at Mrs. Upton,
he saw it echoed, though with, a veiled echo. She laid down her work; she
looked at her daughter as though to probe the significance of her speech,
and, not finding her clue, she sat rather helplessly silent.
"Well," said Jack, with attempted lightness, "I hope that I'm not exiled,
"Oh, Jack, how can you!" said Imogen. "It is only that we have discovered
that we are very, very poor, and one's hospitable impulses are shackled.
Mama has been so brave about it, and I don't want to put any burdens upon
her, especially burdens that would be so uncongenial to her as dear, funny
Mary. Mama could hardly care for that typical New England thing. Don't mind
Jack, mama; he is such a near friend that I can talk quite frankly before
For Mrs. Upton was now gathering up her innocent work, preparatory, it was
evident, to departure.
"You are not displeased, dear!" Imogen protested as she rose, not angry,
not injured--Jack was trying to make it out--but full of a soft withdrawal.
"Please don't go. I so want you and Jack to see something of each other."
"I will come back presently," said Mrs. Upton. And so she left them. Jack's
thin face had flushed.
"She means that _she_ won't talk quite frankly before you, you see," said
Imogen. "Don't mind, dear Jack, she is full of these foolish little
conventionalities; she cares so tremendously about the forms of things; I
simply pay no attention; that's the best way. But it's quite true, Jack; I
don't know that I can afford to have my friends come and stay with me any
more. Apparently mama and papa, in their so different ways, have been very
extravagant; and I, too, Jack, have been extravagant. I never knew that I
mustn't be. The money was given to me as I asked for it--and there were
so many, so many claims,--oh, I can't say that I'm sorry that it is gone
as it went. 'But now that we are very poor, I want it to be my pleasures,
rather than hers, that are cut off; she depends so upon her pleasures, her
comforts. She depends more upon her maid, for instance, than I do even upon
my friends. To go without Mary this winter will be hard, of course, but our
love is founded on deeper things than seeing and speaking; and mama would
feel it tragic, I'm quite sure, to have to do up her own hair."
"Good heaven, my dear Imogen! if you are so poor, surely she can learn to
do up her own hair!" Jack burst out, the more vehemently from the fact
that Mrs. Upton's unprotesting, unexplanatory departure had, to his own
consciousness, involved him with Imogen in a companionship of crudity
and inappropriateness. She would not interfere with their frankness, but
she would not be frank with them. She didn't care a penny for what his
impression of her might be. Imogen might fit as many responsibilities upon
her shoulders as she liked and, with her long training in a school of
reticences and composures, she would remain placid and indifferent. So Jack
worked it out, and he resented, for Imogen and for himself, such tact and
such evasion. He wished that they had been more crude, more inappropriate.
Thank heaven for crudeness if morality as opposed to manners made one
crude. He entrenched himself in that morality now, open-eyed to its
seeming priggishness, to say, "And it's a bigger question than that of her
pleasures and yours, Imogen. It's a question of right and wrong. Mary needs
you. Your mother ought not to keep a maid if other people's needs are to be
sacrificed to her luxuries."
Imogen was looking thoughtfully into the fire, her calmness now not the
result of mastery; her own serene assurance was with her.
"I've thought of all that, Jack; I've weighed it, and though I feel it, as
you do, a question of right and wrong, I don't feel that I can force it
upon her. It would be like taking its favorite doll from a child. She is
trying, I do believe, to atone; she is trying to do her duty by making, as
it were, _une acte de presence_; one wants to be very gentle with her; one
doesn't want to make things more difficult than they must already seem.
Poor, dear little mama. But as for me, Jack, it's more than pleasures that
I have to give up. I have to say no to some of those claims that I've given
my life to. It's like cutting into my heart to do it."
She turned away her head to hide the quiet tears that rose involuntarily,
and by the sight of her noble distress, by the realization, too, of such
magnanimity toward the trivial little mother, Jack's inner emotion was
pushed, suddenly, past all the bolts and barriers. Turning a little pale,
he leaned forward and took her hand, stammering as he said: "Dear, dearest
Imogen, you know--you know what I want to ask--whenever you will let me
speak; you know the right I want to claim--"
It had come, the moment of avowal; but they had glided so quietly upon it
that he felt himself unprepared for his own declaration. It wad Imogen's
tranquil acceptance, rather than his own eagerness, that made the situation
"I know, dear Jack, of course I know," she said. "It has been a deep, a
peaceful joy for a long time to feel that I was first with you. Let it rest
there, for the present, dear Jack."
"I've not made anything less joyful or less peaceful for you by speaking?"
"No, no, dear. It's only that I couldn't think of it, for some time yet."
"You promise me that, meanwhile, you will think of me, as your friend, just
as happily as before?"
"Just as happily, dear Jack; I could never, as long as you are you and I
am I, think of you in any other way." And she went on, with her tranquil
radiance of aspect, "I have always meant, you know, to make something of my
life before I chose what to do with it."
Jack, too, thought Imogen's life a flower so precious that it must be
placed where it could best bloom; but, feeling in her dispassionateness a
hurt to his hope that it would best bloom in his care, he asked: "Mightn't
the making something of it come after the choice, dear?"
Very clear as to what was her own meaning, Imogen shook her lovely,
unconfused head. "No, only the real need could rightly choose, and one can
only know the real need when one has made the real self."
These were Jack's own views, but, hearing them from her lips, they chilled.
"It seems to me that your self, already, is very real," he said, smiling
a little ruefully. And Imogen now, though firm, was very wonderful, for,
leaning to him, she put for a moment her hand on his and said, smiling back
with the tranquil tenderness: "Not yet, not quite yet, Jack; but we trust
each other's truth, and we can't but trust,--I do, dear Jack, with all my
heart,--that it can never part us."
He kissed her hand at that, and promised to trust and to be patient, and
Imogen presently lifted matters back into their accustomed place, saying
that he must help her with her project for building a country home for her
crippled children. She had laid the papers before him and they were deep in
ways and means when a sharp, imperious scratching at the door interrupted
Imogen's face, as she raised it, showed a touch of weary impatience.
"Mamma's dog," she said. "He can't find her. Let him scratch. He will go
away when no one answers."
"Oh, let's satisfy him that she isn't here," said Jack, who was full of a
mild, though alien, consideration for animals.
"Can you feel any fondness for such wisps of sentimentality and greediness
as that?" Imogen asked, as the tiny _griffon_ darted into the room and ran
about, sniffing with interrogative anxiety.
"Not fondness, perhaps, but amused liking."
"There, now you see he will whine and bark to be let out again. He is as
arrogant and as troublesome as a spoilt child."
"I'll hold him until she comes," said Jack. "I say, he is a nice little
beast--full of gratitude; see him lick my hand." He had picked up the dog
and come back to her.
"I really disapprove of such absurd creatures," said Imogen. "Their very
existence seems a wrong to themselves and to the world."
"Well, I don't know." Theoretically Jack agreed with her as to the
extravagant folly of such morsels of frivolity; but, holding the
_griffon_ as he was, meeting its merry, yet melancholy, eyes, evading
its affectionate, caressing leaps toward his cheek, he couldn't echo her
reasonable rigor. "They take something the place of flowers in life, I
"What takes the place of flowers?" Mrs. Upton asked. She had come in while
they spoke and her tone of kind, mild inquiry slightly soothed Jack's
"This," said he, holding out her possession to her.
"Oh, Tison! How good of you to take care of him. He was looking for me,
"Imogen was wondering as to the uses of such creatures and I placed them in
the decorative category," Jack went on, determined to hold his own firmly
against any unjustifiable claims of either Tison or his mistress. He
accused himself of a tendency to soften under her glance when it was so
kindly and so consciously bent upon him. Her indifference cut him and made
him hostile, and both softness and hostility were, as he told himself,
symptoms of a silly sensitiveness. The proper attitude was one of firmness
"I am afraid that you don't care for dogs," Mrs. Upton said. She had gone
back to her seat, taking up her work and passing her hand over Tison's
silky back as he established himself in her lap.
"Oh yes, I do; I care for flowers, too," said Jack, folding his arms and
leaning back against the table, while Imogen sat before her papers,
observant of the little encounter.
"But they are not at all in the same category. And surely," Mrs. Upton
continued, smiling up at him, "one doesn't justify one's fondness for a
creature by its uses."
"I think one really must, you know," our ethical young man objected,
feeling that he must grasp his latent severity when Mrs. Upton's vague
sweetness of regard was affecting him somewhat as her dog's caressing
little tongue had done. "If a fondness is one we have a right to, we
can justify it,--and it can only be justified by its utility, actual or
potential, to the world we are a part of."
Mrs. Upton continued to smile as though she did not suspect him of wishing
to be taken seriously. "One doesn't reason like that before one allows
oneself to become fond."
"There are lots of things we must reason about to get rid of," Jack smiled
"That sounds very chilly and uncomfortable. Besides, something loving,
pretty, responsive--something that one can make very happy--is useful to
"But only that," Imogen now intervened, coming to her friend's assistance
with decision. "It serves only one's own pleasure;--that is its only use.
And when I think, mama darling, of all the cold, hungry, unhappy children
in this great town to-night,--of all the suffering children, such as those
that Jack and I have been trying to help,--I can't but feel that your
petted little dog there robs some one."
Mrs. Upton, looking down at her dog, now asleep in a profound content,
continued to stroke him in silence.
Jack felt that Imogen's tone was perhaps a little too rigorous for the
occasion. "Not that we want you to turn Tison out into the streets," he
"No; you mustn't ask that of me," Valerie answered, her tone less light
than before. "It seems to me that there is a place for dear unreasonable
things in the world. All that Tison is made for is to be petted. A child is
a different problem."
"And a problem that it needs all our time, all our strength, all our love
and faith to deal with," Imogen returned, with gentle sadness. "You _are_
robbing some one, mama dear."
"Apparently we are a naughty couple, you and I, Tison," Mrs. Upton said,
"but I am too old and you too eternally young to mend."
She had begun to crochet again; but, though she resumed all her lightness,
her mildness, Jack fancied that she was a little angry.
When he was gone, Mrs. Upton said, looking up at her daughter: "Of course
you must have Mary Osborne to stay with you, Imogen,"
Imogen had gone to the fire and was gazing into it. She was full of a deep
contentment. By her attitude toward Jack this evening, her reception of his
avowal, she had completely vindicated herself. Peace of mind was impossible
to Imogen unless her conscience were clear of any cloud, and now the
morning's humiliating fear was more than atoned for. She was not the woman
to clutch at safety when pain threatened; she had spoken to him exactly as
she would have spoken yesterday, before knowing that she was poor. And,
under this satisfaction, was the serene gladness of knowing him so surely
Her face, as she turned it toward her mother, adjusted itself to a task of
loving severity. "I cannot think of having her, mama."
"Why not? She will add almost nothing to our expenses. I never for a moment
dreamed of your not having her. I don't know why you thought it my wish."
Imogen looked steadily at her: "Not your wish, mama? After what you told me
"I only said that we must be economical and careful."
"To have one's friends to stay with one is a luxury, is not to be
economical and careful. I don't forget what you said of my expensive mode
of life, of my clothes--a reproof that I am very sure was well deserved; I
should not have been so thoughtless. But it is not fair, mama, really it is
not fair--you must see that--to reproach me, and my father--by implication,
even if not openly--with our reckless charities, and then refuse to take
the responsibility for my awakening."
Imogen, though she spoke with emotion, spoke without haste. Her mother sat
with downcast eyes, working on, and a deep color rose to her cheeks.
"I do want things to be open and honest between us, mama," Imogen went on.
"We are so very different in temperament, in outlook, in conviction, that
to be happy together we must be very true with each other. I want you
always to say just what you mean, so that I may understand what you really
want of me and may clearly see whether I can do it or not. I have such a
horror of any ambiguity in human relations, I believe so in the most
Valerie was still silent for some moments after this. When she did speak it
was only of the practical matter that they had begun with. "I do want you
to have your friends with you, Imogen. It will not be a luxury. I will see
that we can afford it."
"I shall be very, very glad of that, dear. I wish I had understood before.
You see, just now, before Jack, I felt that you were hurt, displeased, by
my inference from our talk this morning. You made me feel by your whole
manner that you found me graceless, tasteless, to blame in some
way--perhaps for speaking about it to Jack. Jack is very near me, mama."
"But not near me."
"Ah, you made me feel that, too; and that you reproached me with having, as
it were, forced an intimacy upon you."
Valerie was drawing her dark brows together, as though her clue had indeed
escaped her. Imogen's mind slipped from link to link of the trivial, yet
significant, matter with an ease and certainty of purpose that was like the
movement of her own sleek needle, drawing loop after loop of wool into a
pattern; but what Imogen's pattern was she could hardly tell. She abandoned
the wish to make clear her own interpretation, looking up presently with a
faint smile. "I'm sorry, dear. I meant nothing of all that, I assure you.
And as to 'Jack,' it was only that I did not care to seem to justify myself
before him--at your expense it might seem."
"Oh, mama dear!" Imogen laughed out. "You thought me so wrong, then, that
you were afraid of harming his devotion to me by letting him see how very
wrong it was! Jack's devotion is very clear-sighted. It's a devotion that,
if it saw wrongs in me, would only ask to show them to me, too, and to
stand shoulder to shoulder with me in fighting them."
"He must be a remarkable young man," said Valerie, quite without irony.
"He is like most _real_ people in this country, mama," said Imogen, on a
graver note. "We have, I think, evolved a new standard of devotion. We
don't want to have dexterous mamas throwing powder in the eyes of the men
who care for us and sacrificing their very conception of right on the altar
of false maternal duty. The duty we owe to any one _is_ our truth. There is
no higher duty than that. Had I been as ungenerous, as unkind, as you, I'm
afraid, imagined me this evening, it would still have been your duty, to
him, to me, to bring the truth fearlessly to the light. I would have been
amused, hadn't I been so hurt, to see you, as you fancied, shielding me!
Please never forget, dear, in the future, that Jack and I are
Looking slightly bewildered by this cascade of smooth fluency, Valerie,
still with her deepened color, here murmured that she, too, cared for the
truth, but the current bore her on. "I don't think you _see_ it, mama, else
you could hardly have hurt me so."
"Did I hurt you so?"
"Why, mama, don't you imagine that I am made of flesh and blood? It was
dreadful to me, your leaving me like that, with the situation on my hands."
Valerie, after another little silence, now repeated, "I'm sorry, dear,"
and, as if accepting contrition, Imogen stooped and kissed her tenderly.
Mary's visit took place about six weeks later, when Jack Pennington was
again in New York, and Mrs. Wake, returned from Europe, had been for some
time established in her little flat not very far away in Washington Square.
The retrenchments in the Upton household had taken place and Mary found
her friend putting her shoulder to the wheel with melancholy courage. The
keeping up of old beneficences meant redoubled labor and, as she said to
Mary, with the smile that Mary found so wonderful: "It seems to me now that
whenever I put my hand out to help, it gets caught and pinched." Mary,
helper and admirer, said to Jack that the way in which Imogen had gathered
up her threads, allowing hardly one to snap, was too beautiful. These young
people, like the minor characters in a play, met often in the drawing-room
while Imogen was busy up-stairs or gone out upon some important errand.
Just now, Miss Bocock's lectures having been set going, the organization
of a performance to be given for the crippled children's country home was
engaging all her time. Tableaux from the Greek drama had been fixed on, the
Pottses were full of eagerness, and Jack had been pressed into service as
stage-manager. The distribution of roles, the grouping of the pictures, the
dressing and the scenery were in his hands.
"It's really extraordinary, the way in which, amidst her grief, she goes
through all this business, all this organization, getting people together
for her committee, securing the theater," said Mary. "Isn't it too bad that
she can't be in the tableaux herself? She would have been the loveliest of
Jack, rather weary, after an encounter with a band of dissatisfied
performers in the library, said: "One could have put one's heart into
making an Antigone of her; that's what I wanted--the filial Antigone,
leading Oedipus through the olive groves of Colonus. It's bitter, instead
of that, to have to rig Mrs. Scott out as Cassandra; will you believe it,
Mary, she insists on being Cassandra--with that figure, that nose! And she
has fixed her heart on the scene where Cassandra stands in the car outside
the house of Agamemnon. She fancies that she is a tragic, ominous type."
"She has nice arms, you know," said the kindly Mary.
"Don't I know!" said Jack. "Well, it's through them that I shall circumvent
her. Her arms shall be fully displayed and her face turned away from the
"Jack, dear, you mustn't be spiteful," Mary shook her head a little at him.
"I've thought that I felt just a touch of--of, well--flippancy in you once
or twice lately. You mustn't deceive poor Mrs. Scott. It's that that is so
wonderful about Imogen. I really believe that she could make her give up
the part, if she set herself to it; she might even tell her that her nose
was too snub for it--and she would not wound her. It's extraordinary her
power over people. They feel, I think, the tenderness, the
disinterestedness, that lies beneath the truth."
"I suppose there's no hope of persuading her to be Antigone?"
"Don't suggest it again, Jack. The idea hurt her so."
"I won't. I understand. When is Rose coming?"
"In a day or two. She is to spend the rest of the winter with the Langleys.
What do you think of for her?"
"Helen appearing between the soldiers, before Hecuba and Menelaus. I only
wish that Imogen had more influence over Rose. Your theory about her power
doesn't hold good there."
"Ah, even there, I don't give up hope. Rose doesn't really know Imogen. And
then Rose is a child in many ways, a dear, but a spoiled, child."
"What do you think of Mrs. Upton, now that you see something of her?" Jack
"She is very sweet and kind, Jack. She is working so hard for all of us.
She is going to make my robe. She is addressing envelopes now--and you know
how dull that is. I am sure I used to misjudge her. But, she is very queer,
"Queer? In what way queer?" Jack asked, placing himself on the sofa, his
legs stretched out before him, his hands in his pockets.
"I hardly know how to express it. She is so light, yet so deep; and I can't
make out why or where she is deep; it's there that the queerness comes in.
I feel it in her smile, the way she looks at you; I believe I feel it more
than she does. She doesn't know she's deep."
"Not really found herself yet, you think?" Jack questioned; the phrase was
one often in use between these young people.
Mary mused. "Somehow that doesn't apply to her--I don't believe she'll ever
look for herself."
"You think it's you she finds," Jack suggested; voicing a dim suspicion
that had come to him once or twice of late.
"What do you mean, exactly, Jack?"
"I'm sure I don't know," he laughed a little. "So you like her?" he
"I think I do; against my judgment, against my will, as it were. But that
doesn't imply that one approves of her."
"Why, Jack, you know the way _you_ felt about it, the day you and I and
Rose talked it over."
"But we hadn't seen her then. What I want to know is just what _you_ feel,
now that you have seen her."
Mary had another conscientious pause. "How can one approve of her while
Imogen is there?" she said at last.
"You mean that Imogen makes one remember everything?"
"Yes. And Imogen is everything she isn't."
"So that, by contrast, she loses."
"Yes, and do you know, Jack," Mary lowered her voice while she glanced up
at Mrs. Upton's portrait, "I can hardly believe that she has suffered,
really suffered, about him, at all. She is so unlike a widow."
"I suppose she felt herself a widow long ago."
"She had no right to feel it, Jack. His death should cast a deeper shadow
As Jack, shamefully, could see Mr. Upton as shadow removed, he only said,
after a slight pause: "Perhaps that's another of the things she doesn't
obviously show--suffering, I mean."
"I'm afraid that she's incapable of feeling any conviction of sin," said
Mary, "and that wise, old-fashioned phrase expresses just what I mean as to
a lack in her. On the other hand, in a warmhearted, pagan sort of way, she
is, I'm quite sure, one of the kindest of people. Her maid, when she went
back to England the other day, cried dreadfully at leaving her, and Mrs.
Upton cried too. I happened to find them together just before Felkin went.
Now I had imagined, in my narrow way, that a spoilt beauty was always a
tyrant to her maid."
"Oh, so her maid's gone! How does she do her hair, then?"
"Do her hair, Jack? What a funny question. As we all do, of course, with
her wits and her hands, I suppose. Any one with common-sense can do their
Jack kept silence, reflecting on the picture that Imogen had drawn for
him--the child bereft of its toy. Had it given it up willingly, or had it
been forced to relinquish it by the pressure of circumstance? Remembering
his own stringent words, he felt a qualm of compunction. Had he armed
Imogen for this ruthlessness?
The lustrous folds of Mrs. Upton's hair, at lunch, reassured him as to her
fitness to do without Felkin in that particular, but his mind still dwelt
on the picture of the crying child and he asked Imogen, when he was next
alone with her, how the departure of Felkin had been effected.
"You couldn't manage to let her keep the toy, then?"
"The toy?" Imogen was blank.
He enlightened her. "Her maid, you know, who had to do her hair."
"Oh, Felkin! No," Imogen's face was a little quizzical, "it couldn't be
managed. I thought it over, what you said about sacrificing other people's
needs to her luxuries, and felt that you were right. So I put it to her,
very, very gently, of course, very tactfully, so that I believe that she
thinks that it was she who initiated the idea. Perhaps she _had_ intended
from the first to send her back; it was so obvious that a woman as poor as
she is ought not to have a maid. All the same, I felt that she was a little
vexed with me, poor dear. But, apart from the economical question, I'm glad
I insisted. It's so much better for her not to be so dependent on another
woman. It's a little degrading for both of them, I think."
Jack, who theoretically disapproved of all such undemocratic gauds, was
sure that Mrs. Upton was much better off without her maid; yet something of
the pathos of that image remained with him--the child deprived of its toy;
something, too, of discomfort over that echo of her father that he now and
then detected in Imogen's serene sense of rightness.
This discomfort, this uneasy sense of echoes, returned more than once
in the days that followed. Mrs. Upton seemed, as yet, to have made very
little difference in the situation; she had glided into it smoothly,
unobtrusively--a silken shadow; when she was among them it was of that she
made him think; and in her shadowed quietness, as of a tranquil mist at
evening or at dawn, he more and more came to feel a peace and sweetness.
But it was always in this sweetness and this peace that the contrasting
throb of restlessness stirred.
He saw her at the meals he frequently attended, meals where the
conversation, for the most part, was carried on by Imogen. Mrs. Wake, also
a frequent guest, was a very silent one, and Mary an earnest listener.
If Imogen's talk had ceased to be very interesting to Jack, that was only
because he knew it so well. He knew it so well that, while she talked,
quietly, fluently, dominatingly, he was able to remain the dispassionate
observer and to wonder how it impressed her mother. Jack watched Mrs.
Upton, while Imogen talked, leaning her head on her hand and raising
contemplative eyes to her daughter. Those soft, dark eyes, eyes almost
somnolent under their dusky brows and half-drooped lashes,--how different
they were from Imogen's, as different as dusk from daylight. And they
were not really sad, not really sleepy, eyes; that was the surprise of
them when, after the downcast mystery, they raised to one suddenly their
penetrating intelligence. The poetry of their aspect was constantly
contradicted by the prose of their glance. But she did more than turn her
own poetry into prose, so he told himself; she turned other people's into
prose, too. Her glance became to him a running translation into sane,
almost merry, commonplace, of Imogen's soarings. He knew that she made the
translation and he knew that it was a prose one, but its meaning she kept
for herself. It was when, now and then, he felt that he had hit upon a
word, a phrase, that the discomfort, the bewilderment, came; and he would
then turn resolutely to Imogen and grasp firmly his own conception of her
essential meaning, a meaning that could bear any amount of renderings.
She was so beautiful, sitting there, the girl he loved, her pearly face
and throat, her coronet of pale, bright gold, rising from the pathetic
blackness, that it might well be that the mother felt only his own joy in
her loveliness and could spare no margin of consciousness for critical
comment. She was so lovely, so young, so good; so jaded, too, with all
the labor, the giving of herself, the long thoughts for others; why
shouldn't she be dominant and assured? Why shouldn't she even be didactic
and slightly complacent? If there was sometimes a triteness in her
pronouncements, a lack of humor, of spontaneity, in her enthusiasms, surely
no one who loved her could recognize them with any but the tenderest of
smiles. He felt quite sure that Mrs. Upton recognized them with nothing
else. He felt quite sure that the "deepest" thing in Mrs. Upton was the
most intense interest in Imogen; but he felt sure, too, that the thing
above it, the thing that gazed so quietly, so dispassionately, was complete
indifference as to what Imogen might be saying. Didn't her prose, with its
unemphatic evenness, imply that some enthusiasms went quite without saying
and that some questions were quite disposed of for talk just because they
were so firmly established for action? When he had reached this point
of query, Jack felt rising within him that former sense of irritation
on Imogen's behalf, and on his own. After all, youthful triteness and
enthusiasm were preferable to indifference. In the stress of this
irritation he felt, at moments, a shock of keen sympathy for the departed
Mr. Upton, who had, no doubt, often felt that disconcerting mingling of
interest and indifference weigh upon his dithyrambic ardors. He often felt
very sorry for Mr. Upton as he looked at his widow. It was better to feel
that than to feel sorry for her while he listened to Imogen. It did not do
to realize too keenly, through Imogen's echo, what it must have been to
listen to Mr. Upton for a lifetime. When, on rare occasions, he had Mrs.
Upton to himself, his impulse always was to "draw her out," to extract from
her what were her impressions of things in general and what her attitude
toward life. She must really, by this time, have enough accepted him as
one of themselves to feel his right to hear all sorts of impressions. He
was used to talking things over, talking them, indeed, over and over;
turning them, surveying them, making the very most of all their possible
significance, with men and women to whom his relationship was half
brotherly and wholly comradely, and whom, in the small, fresh, clear world,
where he had spent his life, he had known since boyhood. It was a very
ethical and intellectual little world, this of Jack's, where impressions
passed from each to each, as if by right, where some suspicion was felt for
those that could not be shared, and where to keep anything so worth while
to oneself was almost to rob a whole circle. Reticence had the distinct
flavor of selfishness and uncertainty of mind, the flavor of laxity. If one
were earnest and ardent and disciplined one either knew what one thought,
and shared it, or one knew what one wanted to think, and one sought it.
Jack suspected Mrs. Upton of being neither earnest, nor ardent, nor
disciplined; but he found it difficult to believe that, as a new inmate of
his world, she couldn't be, if only she would make the effort, as clear as
the rest of it, and that she wasn't as ready, if manipulated with tact and
sympathy, to give and to receive.
Wandering about the drawing-room, while, as usual in her leisure moments,
she crocheted a small jacket, Tison in her lap, he wondered, for instance,
what she thought of the drawing-room. He knew that it was very different
from the drawing-room in her Surrey cottage, and very different from the
drawing-rooms with which, as he had heard from Imogen, she was familiar in
the capitals of Europe. Mrs. Upton was, to-day, crocheting a blue border as
peacefully as though she had faced pseudo-Correggios and crimson brocade
and embossed wall-paper all her life, so that either her tastes shared the
indifference of her intelligence or else her power of self-control was
"I hope that you are coming to Boston some day," he said to her on this
occasion, the occasion of the blue border. "I'd like so much to show you my
studio there, and my work. I'm not such an idler as you might imagine."
Mrs. Upton replied that she should never for a moment imagine him an idler
and that since she was going to Boston to stay with his great-aunt, a dear
but too infrequently seen friend of hers, she hoped soon for the pleasure
of seeing his work. "I hear that you are very talented," she added.
Jack, who considered that he was, did not protest with a false modesty,
but went on to talk of the field of art in general, and questioning her,
skeptical as to her statement that her artistic tastes were a mere medley,
he put together by degrees a conception of vague dislikes and sharp
preferences. But, in spite of his persistence in keeping her to Chardin and
Japanese prints, she would pass on from herself to Imogen, emphasizing her
satisfaction in Imogen's great interest in art. "It's such a delightful
bond between people," And Mrs. Upton, with her more than American parental
discretion, smiled her approval of such bonds.
Jack reflected some moments before saying that Imogen knew, perhaps, more
than she cared. He didn't think that Imogen had, exactly, the esthetic
temperament. And that there was no confidential flavor in these remarks he
demonstrated by adding that it was a point he and Imogen often discussed;
he had often told her that she should try to feel more and to think less,
so that Valerie might amusedly have recalled Imogen's explanation to her
of the fundamental frankness that made lovers in America such "remarkable
young men." Jack's frankness, evidently, would be restrained by neither
diffidence nor affection. She received his diagnosis of her daughter's case
without comment, saying only, after a moment, while she turned a corner of
her jacket, "And you are of the artistic temperament, I suppose?"
"Well, yes," he owned, "in a sense; though not in that in which the word
has been so often misused. I don't see the artist as a performing acrobat
nor as an anarchist in ethics, either. I think that art is one of the big
aspects of life and that through it one gets hold of a big part of
Mrs. Upton, mildly intent on her corner, looked acquiescent.
"I think," Jack went on, "that, like everything else in life worth having,
it's a harmony only attained by discipline and by sacrifice. And it's
essentially a social, not a selfish attainment; it widens our boundaries of
comprehension and sympathy; it reveals brotherhood. The artist's is a high
form of service."
He suspected Mrs. Upton, while he spoke, of disagreement; he suspected her,
also, of finding him sententious; but she continued to look interested, so
that, quite conscious of his didactic purpose and amused by all the things
he saw in their situation, he unfolded to her his conception of the
artist's place in the social organism.
She said, finally, "I should have thought that art was much more of an end
"Ah, there we come to the philosophy of it," said Jack. "It _is_, of
course, a sort of mysticism. One lays hold of something eternal in all
achievement; but then, you see, one finds out that the eternal isn't cut up
into sections, as it were--art here, ethics there--intellect yonder; one
finds out that all that is eternal is bound up with the whole, so that you
can't separate beauty from goodness and truth any more than you can divide
a man's moral sense from his artistic and rational interests."
"Still, it's in sections for us, surely? What very horrid people can be
great artists," Mrs. Upton half questioned, half mused.
"Ah, I don't believe it! I don't believe it!" Jack broke out. "You'll find
a flaw in his art, if you find a moral chaos in him. It must be a harmony!"
The corner was long since turned, and on a simple stretch of blue Mrs.
Upton now looked up at him with a smile that showed him that whether she
liked what he said or not, she certainly liked him. It was here that the
slight bewilderment came in, to feel that he had been upholding some
unmoral doctrine she would have smiled in just the same way; and the
bewilderment was greater on feeling how much he liked her to like him. Over
the didactic intentions, a boyish, an answering, smile irradiated his face.
"I'm not much of a thinker, but I suppose that it does all come together,
somehow," she said.
"I'm sure that you make a great deal of beauty, wherever you are," Jack
answered irrelevantly. "I've heard that your cottage in England is so
charming. Mrs. Wake was telling me about it."
"It is a dear little place."
He remembered, suddenly, that the room where they talked contradicted his
assertion, and, glancing about it furtively, his eye traversed the highly
glazed surface of the Correggio. Mrs. Upton's glance followed his. "I don't
think I ever cared, so seriously, about beauty," she said, smiling quietly.
"I lived, you see, for a good many years in this room, just as it is."
There was no pathos in her voice. Jack brought it out for her.
"I am sure you hated it!"
"I thought it ugly, of course; but I didn't mind so much as all that. I
didn't mind, really, so much as you would."
"Not enough to try to have it right?"
He was marching his ethics into it, and, with his question, he felt now
that he had brought Mr. Upton right down from the wall and between them.
Mr. Upton had not minded the room at all, or had minded only in the sense
that he made it a matter of conscience not to mind. And aspects of it Mr.
Upton had thought beautiful. And that Mrs. Upton felt all this he was sure
from the very vagueness of her answer.
"That would have meant caring more for beauty than for more important
things in life."
He knew that it was in horribly bad taste, but he couldn't help having it
out, now that he had, involuntarily, gone so far. "If you like Chardin, I'm
sure that that hurts you," and he indicated the pseudo-Correggio, this time
She followed his gesture with brows of mildly lifted inquiry, "You mean
it's not genuine?"
"That, and a great deal more. It's imitation, and it's bad imitation; and,
anyway, the original would be out of place here--on that wall-paper."
But Mrs. Upton wouldn't be clear; wouldn't be drawn; wouldn't, simply,
share. She shook her head; she smiled, as though he must accept from her
her lack of proper feeling, repeating, "I didn't like it, but, really, I
never minded much." And he had to extract what satisfaction he could from
her final, vague summing-up. "It went with the chairs--and all the rest."
"Mama," said Imogen, "who is Sir Basil?" She had picked up a letter from
the hall table as she and Jack passed on their way up-stairs after their
walk, and she carried it into the library with the question.
Mrs. Upton was making tea beside the fire, Mrs. Wake and Mary with her,
and as Imogen held out the letter with its English stamp and masculine
handwriting a dusky rose-color mounted to her face. Indeed, in taking the
letter from her daughter's hand, her blush was so obvious that a slight
silence of recognized and shared embarrassment made itself felt.
It was Jack who felt it most. After his swiftly averted glance at Mrs.
Upton his own cheeks had flamed in ignorant sympathy. He was able, in a
moment, to see that it might have been the fire, or the tea, or the mere
suddenness of an unexpected question that had caused the look of helpless
girlishness, but the memory stayed with him, a tenderness and a solicitude
Imogen had apparently seen nothing. She went on, pulling off her gloves,
taking off her hat, glancing at her radiant white and rose in the glass
while she questioned. "I remember him in your letters, but remember him so
little--a dull, kind old country squire, the impression, I think. But what
does a dull, kind old country squire find to write about so often?"
If Mrs. Upton couldn't control her cheeks she could perfectly control
her manner, and though Jack's sympathy guessed at some pretty decisive
irritation under it, he could but feel that its calm disposed of any absurd
interpretations that the blush might have aroused.
"Yes, I have often, I think, mentioned him in my letters, Imogen, though
not in those terms. He is a neighbor of mine in Surrey and a friend."
"Is he clever?" Imogen asked, ignoring the coolness in her mother's voice.
"What does he do, mama?"
"He takes care of his property."
"Sport and feudal philanthropy, I suppose," Imogen smiled.
"Very much just that," Mrs. Upton answered, pouring out her daughter's tea.
Jack, who almost expected to see Imogen's brow darken with reprobation for
the type of existence so described, was relieved, and at the same time
perturbed, to observe that the humorous kindliness of her manner remained
unclouded. No doubt she found the subject too trivial and too remote for
gravity. Jack himself had a general idea that serious friendships between
man and woman were adapted only to the young and the unmated. After
marriage, according to this conception, the sexes became, even in social
intercourse, monogamous, and he couldn't feel the bond between Mrs. Upton
and a feudal country squire as a matter of much importance. But, on the
other hand, Mrs. Upton had said "friend" with decision, and though the
word, for her, could not mean what it meant to people like himself and
Imogen--a grave, a beautiful bond of mutual help, mutual endeavor, mutual
rejoicing in the wonder and splendor of life--even a trivial relationship
was not a fit subject for playful patronage. It was with sharp
disapprobation that he heard Imogen go on to say, "I should like to meet a
man like that--really to know. One imagines that they are as extinct as the
dodo, and suddenly, if one goes to England, one finds them swarming. Happy,
decorative, empty people; perfectly kind, perfectly contented, perfectly
useless. Oh, I don't mean your Sir Basil a bit, mama darling. I'm quite
sure, since you like him, that he is a more interesting variation of the
type. Only I can't help wondering what he _does_ find to write about."
"I think, as I am wondering myself, I will ask you all to excuse me if
I open my letter," said Mrs. Upton, and, making no offer of satisfying
Imogen's curiosity, she unfolded two stout sheets of paper and proceeded
to read them.
Imogen did not lose her look of lightness, but Jack fancied in the
steadiness of the gaze that she bent upon her mother a controlled anger.
"One may be useful, Imogen, without wearing any badge of usefulness," Mrs.
Wake now observed. Her bonnet, as usual, on one side, and her hair much
disarranged, she had listened to the colloquy in silence.
Imogen was always very sweet with Mrs. Wake. She had the air of a full,
deep river benignly willing to receive without a ripple any number of such
tossed pebbles, to engulf and flow over them. She had told Jack that Mrs.
Wake's dry aggressiveness did not blind her for a moment to Mrs. Wake's
noble qualities. Mrs. Wake was a brave, a splendid person, and she had the
greatest admiration for her; but, beneath these appreciations, a complete
indifference as to Mrs. Wake's opinions and personality showed always in
her demeanor toward her. She was a splendid person, but she was of no
importance to Imogen whatever.
"I don't think that one can be useful unless one is actively helping on the
world's work, dear Mrs. Wake," she now said. "Mary, we have tickets for
Carnegie Hall to-morrow night; won't that be a treat? I long for a deep
draft of music."
"One does help it on," said Mrs. Wake, skipping, as it were, another
pebble, "if one fills one's place in life and does one's duty."
Imogen now gave her a more undivided attention. "Precisely. And one must
grow all the time to do that. One's place in life is a growing thing, It
doesn't remain fixed and changeless--as English conservatism usually
implies. Are you a friend of Sir Basil's, too?"
"I met him while I was with your mother, and I thought it a pity we didn't
produce more men like him over here--simple, unselfconscious men, contented
to be themselves and to do the duty that is nearest them."
"Anglomaniac!" Imogen smiled, sugaring her second cup of tea.
Mrs. Wake flushed slightly. "Because I see the good qualities of another
"Because you see its defects with a glamour over them."
"Is it a defect to do well by instinct what we have not yet learned to do
"Ah,--but the danger there is--" Jack here broke in, much interested, "the
danger there is that you merge the individual in the function. When
function becomes instinctive it atrophies unless it can grow into higher
forms of function. Imogen's right, you know."
"In a sense, no doubt. But all the same our defect is that we have so
little interest except as individuals."
"What more interest can any one have than that?"
"In older civilizations people may have all the accumulated interest of the
deep background, the long past, that, quite unconsciously, they embody."
"We have the interest of the future."
"I don't think so, quite; for the individual, the future doesn't seem to
count. The individual is sacrificed to the future, but the past is, in a
sense, sacrificed for the individual; in the right sort it's all
Imogen had listened, still with her steady smile, to these heresies and to
Jack's over-lenient dealing with them. She picked up a review, turning the
pages and glancing through it while she said, ever so lightly and gently:
"I think that you would find most aristocrats against you in our country,
dear Mrs. Wake. With all the depth of our background, the length of our
past, you would find, in Jack and Mary and me, for instance, that it's our
sense of the future, of our own purposes for it, that makes our truest
Jack was rather pleased with this apt summing-up, too pleased, in his
masculine ingenuousness, to feel that for Mrs. Wake, with no ancestry at
all to speak of, such a summing could not be very gratifying. He didn't see
this at all until Mrs. Upton, folding her letter, came into the slightly
awkward silence that followed Imogen's speech, with the decisiveness that
had subtly animated her manner since Imogen's entrance. She remarked that
the past, in that sense of hereditary tradition handed on by hereditary
power, didn't exist at all in America; it was just that fact that made
America so different and so interesting; its aristocrats so often had the
shallowest of backgrounds. And in her gliding to a change of subject, in
her addressing of an entirely foreign question to Mrs. Wake, Jack guessed
at a little flare of resentment on her friend's behalf.
Imogen kept her calm, and while her mother talked to Mrs. Wake she talked
to Mary; but that the calm was assumed she showed him presently when they
were left alone. She then showed him, indeed, that she was frankly angry.
"One doesn't mind Mrs. Wake," she said; "it's that type among us, the
type without background, without traditions, that is so influenced by
the European thing; you saw the little sop mama threw to her--she an
aristocrat!--because of a generation of great wealth; that could be her
only claim; but to have mama so dead to all we mean!"
Jack, rather embarrassed by the pressure of his enlightenments, said that
he hadn't felt that; it seemed to him that she did see what they meant, it
was their future that counted, in the main.
"A rootless future, according to her!"
"Why, we have our past; it's the way we possess it that's new in the world;
that's what she meant. Any little advantage that you or I may have in our
half-dozen or so generations of respectability and responsibility, is ours
only to share, to make us _tell_ more in the general uplifting,"
"You think that you need say that to _me_, Jack! As for respectability,
that homespun word hardly applies; we do have lineage here, and in the
European sense, even if without the European power. But that's no matter.
It's the pressing down on me of this alien standard, whether expressed or
not, that stifles me. I could feel mama's hostility in every word, every
"Hardly hostility, Imogen. Perhaps a touch of vexation on Mrs. Wake's
account. You didn't mean it, of course, but it might have hurt, what you
"That! That was a mere opportunity. Didn't you feel and see that it was!"
Jack's aspect now took on its air of serious and reasonable demonstration.
"Well, you know, Imogen, you were a little tactless about her
friendship--about this Sir Basil."
He expected wonder and denial, but, on the contrary, after going to the
window and looking out silently for some moments, Imogen, without turning,
said, "It's not a friendship I care about."
"Why not?" Jack asked, taken aback.
"I don't like it," Imogen repeated.
"Why under the sun should you dislike it? What do you know about it,
Imogen still gazed from the window. "Jack, I don't believe that mama is at
all the woman to have friends, as we understand the word. I don't believe
that it is simply a friendship. Yes, you may well look surprised,"--she
had turned to him now--"I've never told you. It seemed unfair to her. But
again and again I've caught her whispers, hints, about the sentimental
attachments mama inspires. You may imagine how I've felt, living here with
_him_, in his loneliness. I don't say, I don't believe, that mama was ever
a flirt; she is too dignified, too distinguished a woman for that; but the
fact remains that whispers of this sort do attach themselves to her name,
and a woman is always to blame, in some sense, for that."
Jack, looking as startled as she had hoped he would, gazed now with
frowning intentness on the ground and made no reply.
"As for this Sir Basil," Imogen went on, "I used to wonder if he were
another of these triflers with the sanctity of love, and of late I've
wondered more. He writes to her constantly. What can the bond between mama
and a man of that type be unless it's a sentimental one? And didn't you see
her blush to-day?"
Jack now raised his eyes to her and she saw that he, at all events, was
blushing. "I can't bear to hear you talk like this, Imogen," he said.
Imogen's own cheeks flamed at the implied reproach. "Do you mean that I
must lock everything, everything I have to suffer, into my own heart? I
thought that to you, Jack, I could say anything."
"Of course, of course, dear. Only don't _think_ in this way."
"I accuse her of nothing but accepting this sort of homage."
"I know; of course,--only not even to me. They are friends. We have no
right to spy upon them; it's almost as if you had laid a trap for her and
then pointed her out to me in it. Oh, I know that you didn't mean it so."
"Spy on her! I only wanted to know!"
"But your tone was, well, rather offensively--humorous."
"Can you feel that a friendship to be taken seriously? The very kindest
thing is to treat it lightly, humorously, as I did. She ought to be laughed
out of tolerating such an unbecoming relationship. A woman of her age ought
not to be able to blush like that."
Looking down again, still with his deep flush, Jack said, "Really, Imogen,
I think that you take too much upon yourself."
Imogen felt her cheeks whiten. She fixed her eyes hard on his downcast
"It will be the last touch to all I have to bear, Jack, if mama brings
a misunderstanding between you and me. If you can feel it fitting,
appropriate, that a widow of barely four months should encourage the
infatuation of a stupid old Englishman, then I have no more to say. We
have different conceptions of right and wrong, that is all." Imogen's lips
trembled slightly in pronouncing the words.
"I should agree with you if that were the case, Imogen. I don't believe
that it is."
"Very well. Wait and see if it isn't the case," said Imogen.
It was Jack who broached another subject, asking her about some concerts
she had gone to recently; but, turned from him again and looking out into
the evening, her answers were so vague and chill, that presently, casting a
glance half mournful and half alarmed upon her, he bade her good-by and
Imogen stood looking out unseeingly, a sense of indignation and of fear
weighing upon her. Jack had never before left her like this. But she could
not yield to the impulse to call out to him, run after him, beg him not to
go with a misunderstanding unresolved between them, for she was right and
he was wrong. She had told him to wait and see if it wasn't the case, what
she had said; and now they must wait. She believed that it was the case,
and the thought filled her with a sense of personal humiliation.
Since her summing up of the situation in the library, not three months ago,
that first quiet sense of mastery had been much shaken, and now for weeks
there had been with her constantly a strange gliding of new realizations.
This one seemed the last touch to her mother's wrongness--a wrongness that
had threatened nothing, had crushed down on nothing, and that yet pervaded
more and more the whole of life--that she should bring back to her old
deserted home not a touch of penitence and the incense of absurd devotions.
Friends of that sort, middle-aged, dull Englishmen, didn't, Imogen had
wisely surmised, write to one every week. It wasn't as if they had uniting
interests to bind them. Even a literary, a political, a philanthropic,
correspondence Imogen would have felt as something of an affront to her
father's memory, now, at this time; such links with the life that had
always been a sore upon their family dignity should have been laid aside
while the official mourning lasted, so to speak. But Sir Basil, she felt
sure, had no mitigating interests to write about, and the large, square
envelope that lay so often on the hall-table seemed to her like a pert,
placid face gazing in at the house of mourning. To-day, yes, she had wanted
to know, to see, and suspicions and resentments from dim had become keen.
And now, to complete it all, Jack did not understand. Jack thought her
unfair, unkind. He had left her with that unresolved discord between them.
A sense of bereavement, foreboding, and desolation filled her heart. On the
table beside her stood a tall vase of lilies that he had sent her, and as
she stood, thinking sad and bitter thoughts, she passed her hand over them
from time to time, bending her face to them, till, suddenly, the tears rose
and fell and, closing her eyes, holding the flowers against her cheek, she
began to cry.
That was what she had meant to be like, the pure, sweet aroma of these
flowers, filling all the lives about her with a spiritual fragrance. She
did so want to be good and lovely, to make goodness and loveliness grow
about her. It was hard, hard, when that was what she wanted--all that she
wanted--to receive these buffets from loved hands, to see loved eyes look
at her with trouble and severity. It was nothing, indeed,--it was, indeed,
only to be expected,--that her mother should not recognize the spiritual
fragrance; that Jack should be so insensible to it pierced her. And feeling
herself alone in a blind and hostile world, she sobbed and sobbed, finding
a sad relief in tears. She was able to think, while she wept, that though
it was a relief she mustn't let it become a weakness; mustn't let herself
slide into the danger of allowing grief and desolation to blur outlines for
her. That others were blind mustn't blind her; that others did not see her
as good and lovely must not make her, with cowardly complaisance, forswear
her own clear consciousness of right. She was thinking this, and her sobs
were becoming a little quieter, when her mother, now in her evening
tea-gown, came back into the room.
Imogen was not displeased that her grief should have this particular
witness. Besides all the deep, unspoken wrongs, her mother must be
conscious of smaller wrongs against her this afternoon, must know that she
had--well--tried to put her, as it were, in her place, first about the
letter and then about Mrs. Wake's lack of aristocratic instinct. She must
know this and must know that Imogen knew it. These were trivial matters,
not to be recognized between them; and how completely indifferent they
were to her her present grief would demonstrate. Such tears fell only for
great sorrows. Holding the flowers to her cheek, she wept on, turning her
face away. She knew that her mother had paused, startled, at a loss; and,
gravely, without one word, she intended, in a moment, unless her mother
should think it becoming to withdraw, to leave the room, still weeping. But
she had not time to carry this resolution into effect. Suddenly, and much
to her dismay, she felt her mother's arms around her, while her mother's
voice, alarmed, tender, tearful, came to her: "Poor darling, my poor
darling, what is it? Please tell me."
Physical demonstrations were never pleasing to Imogen, who, indeed,
disliked being touched; and now, though she submitted to having her head
drawn down to her mother's shoulder, she could not feel that the physical
contact in any way bridged the chasm between them. She felt, presently,
from her mother's inarticulate murmurs of compunction and pity, that this
was, apparently, what she had hoped for. It was evidently with difficulty,
before her child's unresponsive silence, that she found words.
"Is it anything that I've done?" she questioned. "Have I seemed cross this
afternoon? I _was_ a little cross, I know. Do forgive me, dear."
Enveloped as she was in her mother's arms, so near that she could feel the
warmth and smoothness of her shoulder through the fine texture of her gown,
so near that a fresh fragrance, like that from a bank of violets, seemed
to breathe upon her, Imogen found it a little difficult to control the
discomfort that the contact aroused in her. "Of course I forgive you, dear
mama," she said, in a voice that had regained its composure. "But, oh
no!--it was not at all for that--I hardly noticed it. It's nothing that you
can help, dear."
"But I can't bear to have you cry and not know what's the matter."
"Your knowing wouldn't help me, would it?" said Imogen, with a faint smile,
lifting her hand to press her handkerchief to her eyes.
"No, of course not; but it would help _me_--for my sake, then."
"Then, if it helps you, it was papa I was thinking of. I miss him so." And
with the words, that placed before her suddenly a picture of her own
desolation, a great sob again shook her. "I'm so lonely now, so lonely."
Her mother held her, not speaking, though Imogen now felt that she, too,
wept, and a greater bitterness rose in her at the thought that it was not
for her dead father that the tears fell but in pure weak sympathy and
helplessness. She, herself, was the only lonely one. She alone, remembered.
She alone longed for him. In this sharpened realization of her own sorrow
she forgot that it had not been the actual cause of her grief.
"Poor darling; poor child," her mother said at last. "Imogen, I know that
I've failed, in so much. But I want so to make up for things, if I can; to
be near you; to fill the loneliness a little; to have you love me, too,
"Love you, my dear mother? Why, I am full of love for you. Haven't you felt
that?" Imogen drew herself away to look her grieved wonder into her
mother's eyes. "Oh, mama, how little you know me!"
Valerie, flushed, the tears on her cheeks, oddly shaken from her usual
serenity, still clasped her daughter's hands and still spoke on. "I know, I
know,--but it's not in the way it ought to be. It's not your fault, Imogen;
it's mine; it must be the mother's fault if she can't make herself needed.
Only you can't know how it all began, from so far back--that sense that you
didn't need me. But I shirked; I know that I shirked. Things seemed too
hard for me--I didn't know how to bear them. Perhaps you might have come
almost to hate me, if I had stayed, as things were. I'm not making any
appeal. I'm not trying to force anything. But I so want you to know how I
long to have my chance--to begin all over again. I so want you to help."
Imogen, troubled and confused by her mother's soft yet almost passionate
eagerness, that seemed to pull her down to some childish, inferior
place, just as her mother's arms had drawn down her head to an attitude
incongruous with its own benignant loftiness, had yet been able, while she
spoke, to gather her thoughts into a keen, moral concentration upon her
actual words. She was accustomed, in moments of moral stress, to a quick
lifting of her heart and mind for help and insight toward the highest that
she knew, and she felt herself pray now, "Help me to be true, to her, for
her." The prayer seemed to raise her from some threatened abasement, and
from her regained height she spoke with a sense of assured revelation.
"We can't have things by merely _wanting_, them. To gain anything we must
_work_ for it. You left us. We didn't shut you out. You were
different.--You _are_ different."
But her mother's vehemence was still too great to be thrown back by
"Yes; that's just it; we were different. It was that that seemed to shut me
out. You were with him--against me. And I'm not asking for any change in
you; I don't think that I expect any change in myself,--I am not asking for
any place in your heart that is his, dear child; I know that that can't be,
should not be. But people can be different, and yet near. They can be
different and yet love each other very much. That's all I want--that you
should see how I care for you and trust me."
"I do trust you, darling mama. I do see that you are warm-hearted, full of
kind impulses. But I think that your life is confused, uncertain of any
goal. If you are to be near me in the way you crave, you must change. And
we _can_, dear, with faith and effort. When you have found yourself, found
a goal, I shall feel you near."
"Ah, but don't be so over-logical, dear child. You're my goal!" Valerie
smiled and appealed at once.
Imogen, though smiling gravely too, shook her head. "I'm afraid that I'm
only your last toy, mama darling. You have come over here to see if you can
make me happy, just as if you were refurnishing a house. But, you see, my
happiness doesn't depend on you."
"You are hard on me, Imogen."
"No; no; I mean to be so gentle. It's such a dangerous view of life--that
centering it on some one else, making them an end. I feel so differently
about life. I think that our love for others is only sound and true when it
helps them to power of service to some shared ideal. Your love for me isn't
like that. It's only an instinctive craving. Forgive me if I seem ruthless.
I only want to help you to see clearly, dear."
Valerie, still holding her daughter's hands, looked away from her and
around the room with a glance at once vague and a little wild.
"I don't know what to say to you," she murmured. "You make all that I mean
wither." She was sad; her ardor had dropped from her. She was not at all
convicted of error; indeed, she was trying, so it seemed, to convict her,
Imogen, of one.
Imogen felt a cold resistance rising within her to meet this
misinterpretation. "On the contrary, dear," she said, "it is just the
poetry, the reality of life, in all its stern glory,--because it is and
must be stern if it is to be spiritual,--it is just that, it seems to me,
that you are trying to reduce to a sort of pretty, facile lyric."
Valerie still held the girl's hands very tightly, as though grasping hard
some dying hope. And looking down upon the ground she stood silent for some
moments. Presently she said, not raising her eyes, "I have won no right, I
suppose, to be seen more significantly by you. Only, I want you to
understand that I don't see myself like that."
Again Imogen felt the unpleasant sensation of being made to seem young
and inexperienced. Her mother's very quiet before exhortation; her sad
relapse into grave kindliness, a kindliness, too, not without its touch of
severity, showed that she possessed, or thought that she possessed, some
inner assurance for which Imogen could find no ground. In answering her she
grasped at all her own.
"I'm very sure you don't," she said, "for I don't for one moment misjudge
your sincerity. And what I want you to believe, my dear mother, is that I
long for the time when any strength and insight I may have gained through
my long fight, by _his_ side, may be of use to you. _Trust_ your own best
vision of yourself and it will some day realize itself. I will trust it
too, indeed, indeed, I will. We must grow if we keep a vision,"
Mrs. Upton now raised her eyes and looked swiftly but deeply at her
daughter. It was a look that left many hopes behind it. It was a look
that armed other, and quite selfless, hopes, with its grave and watchful
understanding. The understanding would not have been so clear had it not
been fed by all the springs of baffled tenderness that only so could find
their uses. Giving her daughter's hands a final shake, as if over some
compact, perhaps over that of growth, she turned away. Tison, who had
followed her into the room and had stood for long looking up at the
colloquy that ignored him, jumped against her dress and she stooped and
picked him up, pressing her cheek against his silken side.
"You had better dress now, Imogen," she said, in tones of astonishing
commonplace. "You've only time. I've kept you so long." And holding Tison
against her cheek she went to the window.
The tableaux were not to come off until the end of April, and Jack, having
set things in motion, was in Boston at the beginning of the month. It was
at this time that Mrs. Upton, too, was in Boston, with her old friend and
his great-aunt, and it was at this time that he came, as he phrased it to
himself, really into touch with her.
Jack's aunt lived in a spacious, peaceful house on the hill, and the
windows of Jack's large flat, near by, looked over the Common, the Gardens,
the Charles River, a cheerful, bird's-eye view of the tranquil city,
breathed upon now by the first, faint green of spring.
Jack was pleased that Mrs. Upton and his aunt--a mild, blanched old lady
with silvery side-curls under the arch of an old-fashioned bonnet-should
often come to tea with him, for in the arrangement of his rooms-that
looked so unarranged--he felt sure that she must recognize a taste as fine
and fastidious as her own. He suspected Mrs. Upton of finding him merely
ethical and he was eager that she should see that his grasp on life was
larger than she might imagine. His taste was fine and fastidious; it was
also disciplined and gracefully vagrant; she must see that in the few but
perfect pictures and mezzotints on his walls; the collection of old white
Chinese porcelain standing about the room on black carved stands; in his
wonderful black lacquer cabinets and in all the charming medley of the rare
and the appropriate.
Certainly, whatever was Mrs. Upton's impression of him, she frequently
expressed herself as delighted with his rooms, and as they sat in the deep
window-seat, which commanded the view of the city, he felt more and more
sure that whatever that impression of him might be, it rested upon an
essential liking. It was pleasant to Jack to feel sure of this, little as
he might be able to justify to himself his gratification. Somehow, with
Mrs. Upton, he didn't find himself occupied with justifying things. The
ease that she had always made for him shone out, now, uninterruptedly, and
as they talked, while the dear old aunt sat near, turning the leaves of a
book, joining in with a word now and then, it was, in the main, the soft,
sweet sense of ease, like the breath of violets in the air, that surrounded
him. They talked of all sorts of things, or rather, as he said to himself,
they babbled, for real talk could hardly be so discursive, so aimless,
so merely merry. She made him think of a child playing with a lapful of
flowers; that was what her talk was like. She would spread them out in
formal rows, arrange them in pretty, intricate posies, or, suddenly, gather
them into generous handfuls which she gave you with a pleased glance and
laugh. It was queer to find a person who took all "talk" so lightly and who
yet, he felt quite sure, took some things hard. It was like the contrast
between her indolent face and her clear, unbiased gaze, that would not
flinch or deceive itself from or about anything that it met. Apparently
most of the things that it met she didn't take solemnly. The world, as far
as he could guess, was for her mainly made up of rather trivial things,
whether hours or people; but, with his new sense of enlightenment, he
more and more came to realize that it might be so made up and yet, to her
apprehension, be very bad, very sad, and very worth while too. And after
seeing her as a child playing with flowers he could imagine her in some
suddenly heroic role--as one of the softly nurtured women of the French
Revolution, for instance, a creature made up of little gaieties, little
griefs; of sprigged silk and gossamer, powder and patches; blossoming,
among the horrors of a hopeless prison, into courageous graces. She would
smile, talk, play cards with them, those doomed ones, she herself doomed;
she would make life's last day livable, in every exquisite sense of the
word. And he could see her in the tumbril, her arm round a terrified girl;
he could see her mounting the steps of the guillotine, perhaps with no
upward glance to heaven, but with a composure as resolute and as serene as
These were strange visions to cross his mind as they sat and talked, while
she made posies for him, and even when they did not hover he often found
himself dwelling with a sort of touched tenderness upon something vaguely
pathetic in her. Perhaps it was only that he found it pathetic to see her
look so young when, measured beside his own contrasted youth, he felt how
old she was. It was pathetic that eyes so clear should fade, that a cheek
so rounded should wither, that the bloom and softness and freshness that
her whole being expressed should be evanescent. Jack was not given to such
meditations, having a robust, transcendental indifference to earthly gauds
unless he could fit them into ethical significances. It was, indeed, no
beauty such as Imogen's that he felt in Mrs. Upton. He was not consciously
aware that her loveliness was of a subtler, finer quality than her
daughter's. She did not remind him of a Madonna nor of anything to do with
a temple. But the very fact that he couldn't tabulate and pigeon-hole her
with some uplifting analogy made her appeal the most direct that he had
ever experienced. The dimness of her lashes; the Japanese-like oddity of
her smile; the very way in which her hair turned up from her neck with an
eddy of escaping tendrils,--these things pervaded his consciousness. He
didn't like to think of her being hurt and unhappy, and he often wondered
if she wasn't bound to be both. He wondered about her a great deal. He
received, on every day they met, hints and illuminations, but never the
clear revealment that he hoped for. The thing that grew surer and surer
for him was her essential liking, and the thing that became sweeter and
sweeter, though the old perplexity mingled with it, was the superficial
amusement he caused her. One of the things that, he began to see, amused
her a little was the catholicity of taste displayed in the books scattered
about his rooms, the volumes of French and Italian that the great-aunt
would take up while they talked. They were books that she felt, he was
quite sure, as funnily incongruous with his whole significance, and that
their presence there meant none of the things that in another environment
they would have stood for; neither cosmopolitanism nor an unbiased
connoisseurship interested in all the flowers--_du mal_ among the rest--of
the human intelligence. That they meant for him his own omniscient
appreciation, unshakenly sure of the ethical category into which he could
place each fruit, however ominous its tainted ripeness; each flower,
however freaked with perverse tints, left her mildly skeptical; so
that he felt, with just a flicker of his old irritation, that the very
plentifulness of esthetic corruption that he could display to her testified
for her to his essential guilelessness, and, perhaps, to a blandness and
narrowness of nature that lacked even the capacity for infection. Jack had
to own to himself that, though he strove to make it rigorously esthetic,
his seeing of d'Annunzio--to take at random one of the _fleurs du mal_--was
as a shining, a luridly splendid warning of what happened to decadent
people in unpleasant Latin countries. Such lurid splendor was as far from
him as the horrors of the Orestean Trilogy. In Mrs. Upton's eyes this
distance, though a distinct advantage for him, was the result of no choice
or conflict, but of environment merely, and she probably thought that the
problems of Nietzschean ethics were not to be solved and disposed of by
people whom they could never touch. But all the same, and it was here that
the atoning softness came in, he felt that she liked him the better for
being able to see a _fleur du mal_ only as if it were a weird pressed
product under a glass case. And if he amused her it was not because of
any sense of superior wisdom; she didn't deny her consciousness of wider
contrasts, but she made no claim at all for deeper insight;--the very way
in which she talked over the sinister people with him showed that,--asking
him his opinion about this or that and opening a volume here and there to
read out in her exquisite French or Italian some passage whose full beauty
he had never before so realized. Any criticism or comment that she offered
was, evidently, of the slightest weight in her own estimation; but, there
again one must remember, so many things seemed light to Mrs. Upton, so
light, indeed, that he had often with her a sense of pressures removed and
an easier world altogether.
"The trouble with him--with all his cleverness and beauty--is that his
picture isn't true," Mrs. Upton said of d'Annunzio, standing with a volume
in her hand in the clear afternoon light.
"True to him," Jack amended, alert for the displayal of his own
"I can't think it. Life is always, for everybody, so much more commonplace
than he dares make it. He is afraid of the commonplace; he won't face it;
and the revenge life takes on people who do that, people who are really
afraid, people who attitudinize, is to infect them in some subtle, mocking
way with the very thing they are trying to escape."
"Well, but he isn't commonplace."
"No; worse; he's silly." She had put down the book and taken up another,
an older one. "Clough,--how far one must travel from d'Annunzio to come to
'It fortifies my soul to know
That though I perish, Truth is so.'"
She meditated the Stoic flavor.
"The last word of heroism, of faith," Jack said, thinking of the tumbril.
But Valerie turned the leaf a little petulantly. "Heroism? Why?"
"Why,"--as usual he was glad to show her that, if she really wanted to see
clearly, he could show her where clearness, of the best sort, lay,--"why,
the man who can say that is free. He has abdicated every selfish claim to
"Highest? Why should it fortify my soul to know that truth is 'so' if 'so'
happens to be some man-devouring dragon of a world-power?"
"Clough assumed, of course, that the truth was high--as it might be, even
if it devoured one."
"I've no use for a truth that would have no better use for me," smiled
Valerie, and on this he tried to draw her on, from her rejection of such
heroism, to some exposal of her own conception of truth, her own opinions
about life, a venture in which he always failed. Not that she purposely
eluded. She listened, grave, interested, but, when the time came for her to
make her contribution, fingering about, metaphorically, in a purse, which,
though not at all empty, contained, apparently, a confused medley of
coinage. If she could have found the right coin, she would have tendered
it gladly; but she seemed to consider a vague chink as all that could be
really desired of her, to take it for granted that he knew that he had lost
nothing of any value.
* * * * *
Sometimes he and Mrs. Upton, Tison trotting at their heels, took walks
together, passing down the steep old streets, austere and cheerful, to the
gardens and along the wide avenue with its lines of trees and broad strip
of turf, on and out to the bridge that spanned the river. They enjoyed
together the view of the pale expanse of water, placidly flowing in the
windless sunshine, and, when they turned to come back, their favorite
aspect of the town. They could see it, then, silhouetted in the vague grays
and reds of its old houses, climbing from the purplish maze of tree-tops in
the Common, climbing with a soft, jostling irregularity, to where the dim
gold bubble of the State House dome rounded on the sky. It almost made one
think, so silhouetted, of a Durer etching.
"Dear place," Mrs. Upton would sigh restfully, and that she was resting in
all her stay here, resting from the demands, the adjustments, of her new
life, he was acutely aware. Resting from Imogen. Yes, why shouldn't he very
simply face that fact? He, too, felt, for the first time, that Imogen had
rather tired him and that he was glad of this interlude before taking up
again the unresolved discord where they had left it. Imogen's last word
about her mother had been that very ominous "Wait and see," and Jack felt
that the discord had grown, more complicated from the fact that, quite
without waiting, he saw a great deal that Imogen, apparently, did not. He
had seen so much that he was willing to wait for whatever else he was to
see with very little perturbation of mind, and that, in the meanwhile, as
many Sir Basils as it pleased Mrs. Upton to have write to her should do so.
But Mrs. Upton talked a great deal about Imogen, so much that he came
to suspect her of adjusting the conversation to some supposed craving
in himself. She had never asked a question about his relations with her
daughter, accepting merely with interest any signs they might choose to
give her, but insinuating no hint of an appeal for more than they might
choose to give. She probably took for granted what was the truth of the
situation, that it rested with Imogen to make it a definite one. She
did not treat him as an accepted lover, nor yet as a rejected one; she
discriminated with the nicest delicacy. What she allowed herself to see,
the ground she went upon, was his deep interest, his deep attachment. In
that light he was admitted by degrees to an intimacy that he knew he could
hardly have won so soon on his own merits. She had observed him; she had
thought him over; she liked him for himself; but, far more than this, she
liked him for Imogen. He often guessed, from a word or look, at a deep core
of feeling in her where her repressed, unemphatic, yet vigilant, maternity
burned steadily. From her growing fondness for him he could gage how fond
she must be of Imogen. The nearness that this made for them was wholly
delightful to Jack, were it not embittered by the familiar sense, sharper
than ever now, of self-questioning and restlessness. A year ago, six months
ago--no, three months only, just before her own coming--how exquisitely
such sympathy, such understanding would have fitted into all his needs. He
could have talked to her, then, by the hour, frankly, freely, joyously,
about Imogen. And the restlessness now was to feel that it was just
because of her coming, because of the soft clear light that she had so
unconsciously, so revealingly, diffused, that things had, in some odd way,
taken on a new color, so that the whole world, so that Imogen especially,
looked different, so that he couldn't any longer be frank, altogether. It
would have been part of the joy, three months ago, to talk over his loving
perception of Imogen's little foibles and childishnesses, to laugh, with
a loving listener, over her little complacencies and pomposities. He had
taken them as lightly as that, then. They had really counted for nothing.
Now they had come to count for so much, and all because of that clear,
soft light, that he really couldn't laugh at them. He couldn't laugh at
them, and since he couldn't do that he must keep silence over them, and
as a result the talks about Imogen with Imogen's mother were, for his
consciousness, a little random and at sea. Imogen's mother confidently
based their community on a shared vision, and that he kept back his real
impression of what he saw was made all the worse by his intuition that she,
too, kept back hers, that she talked from his supposed point of view, as
it were, and didn't give him a glimmer of her own. She loved Imogen, or,
perhaps, rather, she loved her daughter; but what did she think of Imogen?
That was the question that had grown so sharp.
* * * * *
On the day before he and Mrs. Upton went back together to New York, Jack
gave a little tea that was almost a family affair. Cambridge had been one
of their expeditions, in Rose Packer's motor-car, and there Eddy Upton had
given them tea in his room overlooking the elms of the "Yard" at Harvard.
Jack's tea was in some sort a return, for Eddy and Rose both were there and
that Rose, in Eddy's eyes, didn't count as an outsider was now an accepted
Eddy had taken the sudden revelation of his poverty with great coolness,
and Jack admired the grim resolution with which he had cut down expenses
while relaxing in no whit his hold on the nonchalant beauty. Poverty would,
to a certain extent, bar him out from Rose's sumptuous world, and Rose did
not seem to take him very seriously as a suitor; but it was evident that
Eddy did not intend to remain poor any longer than he could possibly help
it and evident, too, that his assurance in regard to sentimental ambitions
had its attractions for her. They chaffed and sparred with each other and
under the flippant duel there flashed now and then the encounters of a real
one. Rose denied the possession of a heart, but Eddy's wary steel might
strike one day to a defenceless tenderness. She liked him, among many
others, very much. And she was, as she frequently declared, in love with
his mother. Jack never took Rose seriously; she remained for him a pretty,
trivial, malicious child; but to-day he was pleased by the evidences of her
The little occasion, presided over by Valerie, bloomed for him. Everybody
tossed nosegays, everybody seemed happy; and it was Rose, sitting in a
low chair beside Mrs. Upton's sofa, who summed it up for him with the
exclamation, "I do so love being with you, Mrs. Upton! What is it you do
to make people so comfortable?"
"She doesn't do anything, people who do things make one uncomfortable,"
remarked Eddy, lounging in his chair and eating sandwiches. "She is, that's
"What is she then," Rose queried, her eyes fixed with a fond effrontery on
Valerie's face. "She's like everything nice, I know; nice things to look
at, to hear, to taste, to smell, to touch. Let us do her portrait, Eddy,
you know the analogy game. What flower does she remind you of? and what
food? Acacia; raspberries and cream. What musical instrument? What animal?
Help me, Jack."
"The musical instrument is a chime of silver bells," said Jack, while
Valerie looked from one to the other with amused interest. "And the animal
is, I think, a bird; a bright, soft-eyed bird, that flits and poises on
"Yes; that does. And now we will do you, Jack. You are like a very nervous,
very brave dog."
"And like a Christmas rose," said Valerie, "and like a flute."
"And the food he reminds me of," finished Eddy, "is baked beans."
"Good," said Rose. "Now, Imogen. What flower is she like? Jack, you will
Jack looked suddenly like the nervous dog, and Rose handsomely started the
portrait with, "Calla lily."
"That's it," Eddy agreed. "And the food she's like is cold lemon-shape, you
know the stuff I mean; and her animal,--there is no animal for Imogen; she
is too loftily human."
"Her instrument is the organ," Rose finished, as if to end as handsomely as
she had begun; "the organ playing the Pilgrims' March from 'Tannhauser.'"
"Excellent," said Eddy.
These young people had done the portrait without help and after the slight
pause with which their analogies were received Jack swiftly summed up Rose
as _Pate-de-foie-gras_, gardenia, a piano, and a toy Pomeranian.
"Thanks," Rose bowed; "I enjoy playing impudence to your dignity."
"What's Imogen up to just now?" Eddy asked, quite unruffled by Jack's
reflections on his beloved. "When did you see her last, Jack?"
"I went down for a dress-rehearsal the day before yesterday." Jack had
still the air of the nervous dog, walking cautiously, the hair of its back
"Oh, the Cripple-Hellenic affair. How Imogen loves running a show."
"And how well she does it," said Rose. "What a perfect queen she would have
made. She would have laid corner-stones; opened bazaars; visited hospitals,
and bowed so beautifully from a carriage--with such a sense of
responsibility in the quality of her smile."
"How inane you are, Rose," said Jack. "Nothing less queen-like, in that
decorative sense, than Imogen, can be imagined. She works day and night for
this thing in which you pretty young people get all the sixpences and she
all the kicks. To bear the burden is all she does, or asks to do."
"Why, my dear Jack," Rose opened widely candid eyes, "queens have to work
like fun, I can tell you. And who under the sun would think of kicking
"Besides," said Eddy, rising to saunter about the room, his hands in his
pockets, "Imogen isn't so superhuman as your fond imagination paints her,
my dear Jack. She knows that the most decorative role of all is just that,
the weary, patient Atlas, bearing the happy world on his shoulders."
Mrs. Upton, in her corner of the sofa, had been turning the leaves of a
rare old edition, glancing up quietly at the speakers while the innocent