Part 3 out of 6
ripples slid on from the afternoon's first sunny shallows to these
ambiguous depths. It was now in a voice that Jack had never heard from her
before that she said, still continuing to turn, her eyes downcast:
"How excessively unkind and untrue, Eddy."
If conscious of unkindness, Eddy, at all events, didn't resort to artifice
as Rose,--Jack still smarted from it,--had done. He continued to smile,
taking, up a small, milky vase to examine it, while he answered in his
chill, cheerful tones: "Don't be up in arms, mama, because one of your
swans gives the other a fraternal peck. Imogen and I always peck at each
other; it's not behind her back alone that I do it. And I'm saying nothing
nasty. It's only people like Imogen who get the good works of the world
done at all. If they didn't love it, just; if they didn't feel the delight
in it that an artist feels in his work, or that Rose feels in dancing
better and looking prettier than any girl in a ball-room,--that any one
feels in self-realization,--why, the cripples would die off like anything."
"It's a very different order of self-realization"; Mrs. Upton continued to
turn her leaves.
Jack knew that she was deeply displeased, and mingled with his own baffled
vexation was the relief of feeling himself at one with her, altogether
at one, in opposition to this implied criticism of Imogen. Together they
shared the conviction--was it the only one they shared about Imogen?--that
she simply cared about being good more than about anything else in the
world; together they recognized such a purpose and such a longing as a high
and an ennobling one.
The tone of her last remark had been final. The talk passed at once away
from Imogen and turned on Jack's last acquisitions in white porcelain and
on his last piece of work, just returned from a winter exhibition. Eddy
went with him into the studio to see it and Mrs. Upton and Rose were left
alone. It was then that Mrs. Upton, touching the other's shoulder so that
she looked up from the fur she was fastening, said, "You are not a nice
little girl, Rose."
The "little girl" stared. Anything so suave yet so firmly intended as
unpleasant had never been addressed to her. For once in her life she was at
a loss; and after the stare she flushed scarlet, the tears rushing to her
"Oh, Mrs. Upton," she faltered, "what do you mean?"
"Hitting in the dark isn't a nice thing to do."
"Hitting in the dark?"
"Yes. You know quite well."
"Oh, but really, really,--I didn't mean--" Rose almost wailed. There was no
escape from those clear eyes. They didn't look sad or angry; they merely
penetrated, spreading dismay within her.
Mrs. Upton now took the flushed face between her hands and gravely
considered it. "_Didn't_ you?" she asked.
Rose could look back no longer. Before that gaze a sense of utter darkness
descended upon her. She felt, helplessly, like a naughty, cowering child.
Her eyes dropped and the tears rolled down her cheeks.
"Please, please forgive me. I didn't dream you'd understand. I didn't mean
anybody to understand, except, perhaps, Eddy. I don't know why, it's odious
of me--but Imogen does irritate me, just a little, just because she is so
good, you know--so lovely."
But this, too, Mrs. Upton penetrated. "Whether Imogen is so good and lovely
that she irritates you is another matter. But, whatever you may think of
her, don't,"--and here she paused a little over the proper expressing of
Rose's misdeed,--"don't call her a calla lily," she found. And she
finished, "Especially not before her mother, who is not so blind to your
meaning as we must hope that Jack is."
Poor Rose looked now like the naughty child after a deserved chastisement.
"Oh, I am so miserable"; this statement of smarting fact was all she found
to say. "And I do care for you so. I would rather please you than any
one.--Can't you forgive me?"
But at this point the darkness was lifted, for Mrs. Upton, smiling at last,
put her arms around her, kissed her, and said, "Be a nice little girl."
Imogen, during this fortnight of her mother's absence, had time to
contemplate her impressions of change.
Their last little scene together had emphasized her consciousness of the
many things that lay beneath it.
Her mother had felt that the tears on that occasion were in part a result
of the day's earlier encounter, muffled though it was, over Sir Basil, and
had attempted, on ground of her own choosing, to lure her child away from
the seeing, not only of Sir Basil--he was a mere symbol--but of all the
things where she must know that Imogen saw her as wrong.
"She wanted to blur my reason with instinct; to mesh me in the blind filial
thing," Imogen reflected. In looking back she could feel with satisfaction
that her reason had dominated the scene as a lighthouse beacon shines
steadily over tossing and ambiguous waters. Satisfaction was in the vision;
the deep content of having, as she would have expressed it, "been true to
her light." But it was only in this vision of her own stability of soul
that satisfaction lay.
In Jack's absence, and in her mother's, she could gage more accurately what
her mother had done to Jack. She had long felt it, that something different
growing vaguely in him--so vaguely that it was like nothing with a definite
edge or shape, resembling, rather, a shadow of the encompassing gloom, a
shadow that only her own far-reaching beams revealed. As the light hovers
on the confines of the dark she had felt--a silence.
He was silent--he watched. That was the summing up of the change. He really
seemed to convey to her through his silence that he understood her now,
or was coming to, better than he had ever done before, better than she
understood herself. And with the new understanding it was exactly as if he
had found that his focus was misdirected. He no longer looked up; Imogen
knew that by the fact that when, metaphorically, her eyes were cast down
to meet with approbation and sweet encouragement his upturned admiration,
vacancy, only, met their gaze. He no longer--so her beam pierced further
and further--looked at her on a level, with the frankness of mere mutual
need and trust. No; such silence, such watchfulness implied superiority.
The last verge of shadow was reached when she could make out that he
looked at her from an affectionate, a paternal,--oh, yes, still a very
lover-like,--height, not less watchful for being tender; not less steady
for being, still, rather puzzled. Beyond that she couldn't pierce. It was
indeed a limit denoting a silent revolution in their relationship. When she
came to the realization, Imogen, starting back, indignant through all her
being, promised herself that if he looked down she, at all events, would
never lend herself to the preposterous topsy-turvydom by looking up. She
would firmly ignore that shift of focus. She would look straight before
her; she would look, as she spoke, the truth. She "followed her gleam." She
stood beside her beacon. And she told herself that her truth, her holding
to it, might cost her a great deal.
It was not that she feared to lose him,--if she chose to keep him; but it
might be that there were terms on which she would not care to keep him. If,
it was still an almost unimaginable "if," he could not, would not come once
more to see clearly, then, as lover, he must be put aside, and even as
friend learn that she had little use for a friendship so warped from its
Under this stoic resolve there was growing in poor Imogen a tossing of
confused pain and alarm. She could see change so clearly, but causes were
untraceable, an impalpable tangle.
Why was it so? What had happened? What, above all, had her mother done to
It was all about her mother that change centered, from her that it came.
It was a web, a complexity of airy filaments that met her scrutiny. Here
hovered her mother's smile, here her thoughtful, observant silences. There
Sir Basil's letter; Felkin's departure; all the blurred medley of the
times when she had talked to Jack and Mary and her mother had listened. A
dimness, a haze, was over all, and she only escaped it, broke through it,
when, fighting her way out to her own secure air and sunlight, she told
herself,--as, at all events, the nearest truth to hand,--that it was about
Jack, over him, that the web had been spun: the web of a smile that claimed
nothing, yet that chained men; the web of a vague, sweet silence, that
judged nothing, yet softly blighted, through its own indifference, all
other people's enthusiasms. And again and again, during these days of
adjustment to the clear and the confused vision, Imogen felt the salt hot
tears burning in her throat and eyes.
When Jack and her mother were both back again and he and she united in the
mechanical interests of the tableaux, now imminent, the strangest
loneliness lay in the fact that she could no longer share her grief, her
fear, her anger, with Jack, He was there, near her; but he was, far, far
away; and she must control any impulse that would draw him near.
She put him to the test; she measured his worth by his power of
recognition, his power of discrimination between her mother's instinctive
allurements and her own high demand. But while with her mind and soul, as
she told herself, she thus held him away, she was conscious of the inner
wail of loneliness and unconscious that, under the steady resolution, every
faculty, every charm she possessed, was spinning and stretching itself out
to surround and hold him.
She made no appeal, but he would feel her quiet sadness weigh upon him;
she made no reproach, but she knew that he could but be full of pity for
her weariness, of love for her devotedness, when her pale profile bent by
lamplight over all the tedious work of the tableaux; knew that her patient
"Good-night, dear Jack,--I'm too tired to stay and talk," must smite him
with compunction and uneasiness.
It was no direct communication; she used symbols to convey to him the
significance that he seemed to be forgetting. She took him to one of Miss
Bocock's lectures, gently disowning praise for her part in their success.
She took him to the hospital for cripple children, where the nurses smiled
at her and the children clambered, crutches and all, into her lap,--she
knew how lovely she must look, enfolding cripple children. She took both
her mother and him to her Girls' Club on the East side, where they saw her
surrounded by adoring gratitude and enthusiasm, where she sat hand in hand
with her "girls," all sympathy, all tenderness, all interest,--all the
things that Jack had loved her for and that he still, of course, loved her
for. Here she must seem to him like a sister of charity, carrying high
her lamp of love among these dark lives. And she was careful that their
reflected light should shine back upon her. "I want you to know a dear
friend of mine, Jack, Miss Mc-Ginty; and this, Evangeline, is my friend,
Mr. Pennington,"--so she would lead him up to one of the girls, bold
and gay of eye, highly decorated of person. She knew that she left her
reputation in safe hands with Evangeline. "Are you a friend of Miss
Upton's? She's _fine_. We're all just crazy about her." She had, as she
went from them, the satisfaction of hearing so much of Evangeline's crude
but sincere paon; they were all "just crazy" about her.
And a further shining of light suggested itself to her.
"Mamma darling," she said, as they were going home in the clashing,
clattering "elevated," "you mustn't think me naughty, but I had to ask
them--my own particular girls--to go with us to the Philharmonic. They are
becoming so interested in their music and it will be a treat for them, will
really mean something in their lives, will really live for them, _in_
Mrs. Upton leaned forward to listen in the mingled uproar of banging doors
and vociferous announcements from the conductor. A look of uncertainty
crossed her face and Imogen hastened to add: "No, it's not the extravagance
you think. I had a splendid idea. I'm going to sell that old ring that
Grandmamma Cray left me. Rose told me once that I could get a lot of money
Swiftly flushing, her brows knitted, the din about them evidently adding to
her perturbation, Mrs. Upton, with a sharpness of utterance that Jack had
never heard from her, said: "Your sapphire ring? Your grandmother's ring?
Indeed, indeed, Imogen, I must ask you not to do that!"
"Why, mama dear, why?" Imogen's surprise was genuine and an answering
severity was checked by Jack's presence.
"It was my mother's ring."
"But what better use could I make of it, mama? I rarely wear any ring but
the beautiful pearl that papa gave me."
"I couldn't bear to have you sell it."
"But, mama dear, why? I must ask it. How can I sacrifice so much for a mere
"I must ask you to yield to a mere whim, then. Pray give up the thought. We
will find the money in some other way."
"Of course, mama, if you insist, I must yield," Imogen said, sinking
back in her seat beside the attentive Jack, and hoping that her mournful
acquiescence might show in its true light to him, even if her mother's
sentimental selfishness didn't. And later, when he very prettily insisted
on himself entertaining the club-girls at the Philharmonic, she felt that,
after all, no one but her mother had lost in the encounter. The girls were
to have their concert (though they might have had many such, had not her
mother so robbed them, there was still that wound) and she was to keep her
ring; and she was not sorry for that, for it did go well with the pearl.
Above all, Jack must have appreciated both her generous intention and her
relinquishing of it. Yet she had just to test his appreciation.
"Indeed I do accept, Jack. I can't bear to have them disappointed for a
childish fancy, like that of poor mama's, and we have no right to afford it
by any other means. Isn't it strange that any one should care more for a
colored bit of stone than for some high and shining hours in those girls'
But Jack said: "Oh, I perfectly understand what she felt about it. It was
her mother's ring. She probably remembers seeing it on her mother's hand."
So Imogen had, again, to recognize the edge of the shadow.
They, all of them, Jack, Mary, and her mother, went with her and her girls
to the concert. Jack had taken two boxes in the semicircle that sweeps
round Carnegie Hall, overhanging the level sea of heads below. Rose Packer,
just come to town, was next them, with the friends she was visiting in New
York, two pretty, elaborately dressed girls, frothing with youthful high
spirits, and their mother, an abundant, skilfully-girthed matron. The
Langleys were very fashionable and very wealthy; their houses in America,
England, Italy, their yachts and motorcars, their dances and dinners,
furnished matter for constant and uplifted discourse in the society columns
of the English-speaking press all over the world. Every one of Imogen's
factory girls knew them by name and a stir of whispers and nudges announced
Mrs. Langley leaned over the low partition to clasp Mrs. Upton's
hand,--they had known each other since girlhood,--and to smile benignly
upon Imogen, casting a glance upon the self-conscious, staring girls, whose
clothing was a travesty of her own consummate modishness as their manners
at once attempted to echo her sweetness and suavity.
"What a nice idea," she murmured to Imogen; "and to have them hear it in
the best way possible, too. Not crowded into cheap, stuffy seats."
"That would hardly have been possible, since I do not myself care to hear
music in cheap seats. What is not good enough for me is not good enough for
my friends. To-day we all owe our pleasure to Mr. Pennington."
Mrs. Langley, blandly interested in this creditable enlightenment, turned
to Jack with questioning about the tableaux.
"We are all so much interested in Imogen's interests, aren't we? It's such
an excellent idea. My girls are so sorry that they can't be in them. Rose
tells me, Imogen, that there was some idea of your doing Antigone."
"None whatever," said Imogen, with no abatement of frigidity. She
disapproved of leaders of fashion.
"I only meant," Rose leaned forward, "that we wanted you to, so much,"
"And can't you persuade her? You would look so well, my dear child. Talk
her over, Valerie, you and Mr. Pennington." Mrs. Langley looked back at her
"It would hardly do just now, I think," Valerie answered.
"But for a charity--" Mrs. Langley urged her mitigation with a smile that
expressed, to Imogen's irritated sensibilities, all the trite conformity of
"I don't think it would do," Valerie repeated.
"Pray don't think my motive in refusing a conventional one," said Imogen,
with an irrepressible severity that included her mother as well as Rose and
Mrs. Langley. These two sank back in their seats and the symphony began.
Resting her cheek on her hand, her elbow on her knee, Imogen leaned
forward, as if out of the perplexing, weary world into the sphere of
the soul. She smiled deeply at one of her girls while she fell into the
listening harmony of attitude, and her delicate face took on a look of rapt
Jack was watching her, she knew; though she did not know that her own
consciousness of the fact effectually prevented her from receiving as more
than a blurred sensation the sounds that fell upon her ear.
She adjusted her face, her attitude, as a painter expresses an idea through
the medium of form, and her idea was to look as though feeling the noblest
things that one can feel. And at the end of the first movement, the vaguely
heard harmony without responding to the harmony of this inner purpose, the
music's tragic acceptance of doom echoing her own deep sense of loneliness,
the strange new sorrow tangling her life, tears rose beautifully to her
eyes; a tear slid down her cheek.
She put up her handkerchief quietly and dried it, glancing now at Jack
beside her. He was making a neat entry in a note-book, technically
interested in the rendering by a new conductor. The sight struck through
her and brought her soaring sadness to earth. Anger, deep and gnawing,
filled her. He had not seen her tears, or, if he had, did not care that
she was sad. It was little consolation for her hurt to see good Mary's
eyes fixed on her with wide solicitude. She smiled, ever so gravely and
tenderly, at Mary, and turned her eyes away.
A babble of silly enthusiasm had begun in the Langley box and Rose had
just effected a change of seat that brought her next to her adored Mrs.
Upton and nearer her dear Mary. Imogen almost felt that hostile forces had
clustered behind her back, especially as Jack turned in his chair to talk
to Mary and her mother.
"Just too lovely!" exclaimed one of the younger Miss Langleys, in much the
same vernacular as that used by Imogen's _protegees_.
She looked round at these to see one yawning cavernously, on the cessation
of uncomprehended sound; while another's eyes, drowsed as if by some
narcotic, sought the relief of visual interest in the late-comers who filed
in below. A third sat in an attitude of sodden preoccupation, breathing
heavily and gazing at the Langleys and at Rose, who wore to-day a wonderful
dress. Only a rounded little Jewess, with eyes of black lacquer set in a
fat, acquiline face, quite Imogen's least favorite of her girls, showed a
proper appreciation. She was as intent and as preoccupied as Jack had been.
The second movement began, a movement hurrying, dissatisfied, rising in
appeal and aspiration, beaten back; turning upon itself continually,
continually to rise again,--baffled, frustrated, yet indomitable. And as
Imogen listened her features took on a mask-like look of gloom. How alone
she was among them all.
She was glad in the third movement, her mind in its knotted concentration
catching but one passage, and that given with a new rendering, to emphasize
her displeasure by a little shudder and frown. An uproar of enthusiasm
arose after the movement and Imogen heard one of the factory girls behind
her, in answer to a question from her mother, ejaculate "_Fine!_"
When her mother leaned to her, with the same "Wasn't it splendid?" Imogen
found relief in answering firmly, "I thought it insolent."
"Insolent? That adagio bit?"--Jack, evidently, had seen her symptoms of
distress.--"Why, I thought it a most exquisite interpretation."
"So did I," said Mrs. Upton rather sadly from behind.
"It hurt me, mama dear," said Imogen. "But then I know this symphony so
well, love it so much, that I perhaps feel intolerantly toward new
As the next, and last, movement began, she heard Rose under her breath yet
quite loud enough, murmur, "Bunkum!" The ejaculation was nicely modulated
to reach her own ears alone.
With a deepened sense of alienation, Imogen sat enveloped by the unheard
thunders of the final movement. Yes, Rose would hide her impertinence from
others' ears. Imogen had noted the growing tenderness, light and playful,
between her mother and the girl. Behind her, presently, she rustled in all
her silks as she leaned to whisper something to Mrs. Upton--"You will come
and have tea with me,--at Sherry's,--all by ourselves?" Imogen caught.
Her mother was not the initiator, but her acquiescence was an offense, and
to Imogen, acutely conscious of the whispered colloquy, each murmur ran
needles of anger into her stretched and vibrating nerves. At last she
turned eyes portentously widened and a prolonged "Ss-s-s-h" upon them.
"People _oughtn't_ to whisper," Jack smiled comprehendingly at her, when
they reached the end of the symphony; the rest of the movement having been
occupied, for Imogen, with a sense of indignant injury.
She had caught his attention, then, with her reproof. There was sudden balm
in his sympathy. The memory of the unnoticed tear still rankled in her, but
she was able to smile back. "Some people will always be the money-lenders
in the temple."
At once the balm was embittered. She had trusted too much to his sympathy.
He flushed his quick, facile flush, and she was again at the confines of
the shadow. Really, it was coming to a pass when she could venture no least
criticism, even by implication, of her mother.
But, keeping up her smile, she went on: "You don't feel that? To me,
music is a temple, the cathedral of my soul. And the chink of money, the
bartering of social trivialities, jars on me like a sacrilege."
He looked away, still with the flush. "Aren't we all, more or less,
worshipers or money-lenders by turn? My mind often strays."
"Not to the glitter of common coin," she insisted, urging with mildness his
own better self upon him; for, yes, rather than judge her mother he would
lower his own ideal. All the more reason, then, for her to hold fast to her
own truth, and see its light place him where it must. If he now thought her
priggish,--well, that _did_ place him.
"Oh, yes, it does, often," he rejoined; but now he smiled at her as though
her very solemnity, her very lack of humor, touched him; it was once more
the looking down of the shifted focus. Then he appealed a little.
"You mustn't be too hard on people for not feeling as you do--all the
Consistency did not permit her an answer, for the next piece had begun.
When the concert was over, Mrs. Langley offered the hospitality of her
electric brougham to three of them. Rose and her girls were going to a tea
close by. Imogen said that she preferred walking and Jack said that he
would go with her; so Mary and Mrs. Upton departed with Mrs. Langley and,
the factory girls dispatched to their distances by subway, the young couple
started on their way down crowded Fifth Avenue.
It was a bright, reverberating day, dry and cloudless, and, as they
walked shoulder to shoulder, their heels rang metallically on the frosty
pavements. Above the sloping canon of the avenue, the sky stretched, a long
strip of scintillating blue. The "Flat-Iron" building towered appallingly
into the middle distance like the ship prow of some giant invasion. The
significance of the scene was of nothing nobly permanent, but it was
exhilarating in its expression of inquisitive, adventurous life, shaping
its facile ideals in vast, fluent forms.
Imogen's face, bathed in the late sunlight, showed its usual calm;
inwardly, she was drawn tight and tense as an arrow to the bow-head, in a
tingling readiness to shoot far and free at any challenge.
A surface constraint was manifested in Jack's nervous features, but she
guessed that his consciousness had not reached the pitch of her own
acuteness, and made him only aware of a difference as yet unadjusted
between them. Indeed, with a quiet interest that she knew was not assumed,
he presently commented to her on the odd disproportion between the
streaming humanity and its enormous frame.
"If one looks at it as a whole it's as inharmonious as a high, huge stage
with its tiny figures before the footlights. It's quite out of scale as a
setting for the human form. It's awfully ugly, and yet it's rather
"We are still juggling with our possibilities," said Jack, and he continued
to talk on of the American people and their possibilities--his favorite
topic--so quietly, so happily, even, that Imogen felt suddenly a relaxation
of the miserable mood that had held her during all the afternoon.
His comradely tone brought her the sensation of their old, their so recent,
relation, complete, unflawed, once more. An impulse of recovery rose in
her, and, her mind busy with the sweet imagination, she said presently,
reflectively, "I think I will do your Antigone after all."
Completely without coquetry, and sincerely innocent of feminine wiles,
Imogen had always known, sub-consciously as it were, for the matter seldom
assumed the least significance for her, that Jack delighted in her personal
appearance. She saw herself, suddenly, in all the appealing youth and
beauty of the Grecian heroine, stamping on his heart, by means of the outer
manifestation, that inner reality to which he had become so strangely
blind. It was to this revelation of reality that her thought clung, and an
added impulse of mere tenderness had helped to bring the words to her lips.
In her essential childishness where emotion and the drama of the senses
were concerned, she could not have guessed that the impulse, with its
tender mask, was the primitive one of conquest, the cruel female instinct
for holding even where one might not care to keep. At the bottom of her
heart, a realm never visited by her unspotted thoughts, was a yearning,
strangely mingled, to be adored, and to wreak vengeance for the faltering
in adoration that she had felt. Ah, to bind him!--to bind him, helpless, to
her! That was the mingled cry.
Jack looked round at her, as unconscious as she of these pathetic and
tigerish depths, but though his eye lighted with the artist's delight in
the vision that he had relinquished reluctantly, she saw, in another
moment, that he hesitated.
"That would be splendid, dear,--but, can you go back on what you said?"
"Why not? If I have found reason to reconsider my first decision?"
"What reason? You mustn't do it just to please me, you know; though it's
sweet of you, if that is the reason. Your mother, you see, agreed with you.
I hadn't realized that she would mind. You know what she said, just now."
Jack had flushed in placing his objection, and Imogen, keeping grave,
sunlit eyes upon him, felt a flush rise to her own cheeks.
"Do you feel her minding, minding in such a way, any barrier?" She was able
to control the pain, the anger, that his hesitation gave her, the quick
humiliation, too, and she went on with only a deepening of voice:
"Perhaps that minding of hers is part of my reason. I have no right, I see
that clearly now, to withhold what I can do for our cause from any selfish
shrinking. I felt, in that moment when she and Mrs. Langley debated on the
conventional aspect of the matter, that I would be glad, yes, glad, to give
myself, since my refusal is seen in the same category as any paltry, social
scruple. It was as if a deep and sacred thing of one's heart were suddenly
dragged out and exhibited like a thickness of black at the edge of one's
"Will you understand me, Jack, when I say that I feel that I can in no way
so atone to that sacred memory for the interpretation that was an insult;
in no way keep it so safe, as by making it this offering of myself. It is
for papa that I shall do it. He would have wished it. I shall think of him
as I stand there, of him and of the children that we are helping."
She spoke with her deliberate volubility, neither hesitating nor hurrying,
her meaning, for all its grandiloquence of setting, very definite, and Jack
looked a little dazed, as though from the superabundance of meaning.
"Yes, I see,--yes, you are quite right," he said. He paused for a moment,
going over her chain of cause and effect, seeking the particular link that
the new loyalty in him had resented. And then, after the pause, finding it:
"But I don't believe your mother meant it like that," he added.
His eyes met Imogen's as he said it, and he almost fancied that something
swordlike clashed against his glance, something that she swiftly withdrew
and sheathed. It was earnest gentleness alone that answered him.
"What do you think she did mean then, Jack? Please help me to see if I'm
unfair. I only long to be perfectly fair. How can I do for her, unless I
His smoldering resentment was quenched by a sense of compunction and a
"That's dear of you, Imogen," he said. "You _are_, I think, unfair at
times. It's difficult to lay one's finger on it."
"But please _do_ lay your finger on it--as heavily as you can, dear Jack."
"Well, the simile will do for my impression. The finger you lay on _her_ is
too heavy. You exaggerate things in her--over-emphasize things."
She was holding herself, forcing herself to look calmly at this road he
pointed out to her, the only road, perhaps, that would lead her back to her
old place with him. "Admirable things, you think, if one saw them truly?"
"I don't know about admirable; but warm, sweet--at the worst, harmless.
I'm sure, to-day, that she only meant it for you, for what she felt must
be your shrinking. Of course she had her sense of fitness, too, a fitness
that we may, as you feel, overlook when we see the larger fitness. But
her intention was perfectly,"--he paused, seeking an expression for the
intention and repeated,--"Sweet, warm, harmless."
Imogen felt that she was holding herself as she had never held herself.
"Don't you think I see all that, Jack?"
"Well, I only meant that I, since coming to know her, really know her, in
Boston, see it most of all."
"And you can't see, too, how it must stab me to have papa--papa--put,
through her trivial words, into the category of black-edged paper?"
Her voice had now the note of tears.
"But she _doesn't_," he protested.
"Can you deny that, for her, he counts for little more than the mere
question of convention?"
Jack at this was, perforce, silent. No, he couldn't altogether deny it, and
though it did not seem to him a particularly relevant truth he could but
own that to Imogen it might well appear so. He did not answer her, and
there the incident seemed to end. But it left them both with the sense of
frustrated hope, and over and above that Jack had felt, sharper than ever
before, the old shoot of weariness for "papa" as the touchstone for such
Mrs. Upton expressed no displeasure, although she could not control
surprise, when she was informed of Imogen's change of decision, and Jack,
watching her as usual, felt bound, after the little scene of her quiet
acquiescence, to return with Imogen, for a moment, to the subject of their
dispute. Imogen had asked him to help her to see and however hopeless he
might feel of any fundamental seeing on her part, he mustn't abandon hope
while there was a stone unturned.
"That's what it really was," he said to her. "You _do_ see, don't you?--to
respond to whatever she felt you wanted."
Imogen stared a little. "Of what are you talking, Jack?"
"Of your mother Antigone--the black edge. It wasn't the black edge."
She had understood in a moment and was all there, as fully equipped with
forbearing opposition as ever.
"It wasn't _even_ the black edge, you mean? Even that homage to his memory
"Of course not. I mean that she wanted to do what you wanted."
"And does she think, do you think, it's _that_ I want,--a suave adaptation
to ideals she doesn't even understand? No doubt she attributes my change
to girlish vanity, the wish to shine among the others. If that was what I
wanted, that would be what she would want, too."
"Aren't you getting away from the point a little?" he asked, baffled and
confused, as he often was, by her measured decisiveness.
"It seems to me that I am _on_ the point.--The point is that she cared so
little about _him_--in either way."
This was what he had foreseen that she would think.
"The point is that she cares so much for you," he ventured his conviction,
fixing his eyes, oddly deepened with this, his deepest appeal, upon her.
But Imogen, as though it were a bait thrown out and powerless to allure,
slid past it.
"To gain things we must _work_ for them. It's not by merely caring,
yielding, that one wins one's rights. Mama is a very 'sweet, warm,
harmless' person; I see that as well as you do, Jack." So she put him in
his place and he could only wonder if he had any right to feel so angry.
The preparations for the new tableau were at once begun and a few days
after their last uncomfortable encounter, Jack and Imogen were again
together, in happier circumstances it seemed, for Imogen, standing in
the library while her mother adjusted her folds and draperies, could but
delight a lover's eye. Mary, also on view, in her handmaiden array,--Mary's
part was a small one in the picture of the restored Alcestis,--sat gazing
in admiration, and Jack walked about mother and daughter with suggestion
"It's perfect, quite perfect," he declared, "that warm, soft white; and
you have done it most beautifully, Mrs. Upton. You are a wonderful
"Isn't my chlamys a darling?" said Valerie happily from below, where she
knelt to turn a hem.
"Mama won't let us forget that chlamys," Imogen said, casting a look of
amusement upon her mother. "She is so deliciously vain about it." Imogen
was feeling a thrill of confidence and hope. Jack's eyes, as they rested
upon her, had shown the fondest admiration. She was in the humor, so rare
with her of late, of gaiety and light assurance. And she thirsted for words
of praise and delight from Jack.
"No wonder that she is vain," Jack returned. "It has just the look of that
heavenly garment that blows back from the Victory of Samothrace. The hair,
too, with those fillets, you did that, I suppose."
"Yes, I did. I do think it's an achievement. It has the carven look that
one wants. Imogen's hair lends itself wonderfully to those long, sweeping
But, Jack, once having expressed his admiration for Imogen, seemed
tactlessly bent on emphasizing his admiration for the mere craftswoman of
"Well, it's as if you had formed the image into which I'm to blow the
breath of life. I'm really uncertain, yet, as to the best attitude." Imogen
was listening to this with some gravity of gaze. "Do take that last
position we decided upon, Imogen. And do you, Mary, take the place of the
faltering old Oedipus for a moment. Look down, Imogen; yes, a strong,
brooding tenderness of look."
"Ah, she gets it wonderfully," said Valerie, still at her hem.
"Not quite deep or still enough," Jack objected. "Stand back, Mary, please,
while we work at the expression. No, that's not it yet."
"But it's lovely, so. You would have found fault with Antigone herself,
Jack," Mrs. Upton protested.
"Jack is quite right, mama, pray don't laugh at his suggestions. I
understand perfectly what he means." Imogen glanced at herself in the
mirror with a grave effort to assume the expression demanded of her. "Is
this better, Jack?"
"Yes--no;--no, you can't get at all what I mean," the young man returned,
so almost pettishly that Valerie glanced up at him with a quick flush.
Imogen's resentment, if she felt any, did not become apparent. She accepted
condemnation with dignified patience.
"I'm afraid that is the best I can do now, though I'll try. Perhaps on the
day of the actual performance it will come more deeply to me. There, mama
darling, that will do; it's quite right now. I can't put myself into
it while you sew down there. I can hardly think that I'm brooding over
my tragic father while I see your pins and needles. Now, Jack, is this
better?" With perfect composure she once more took the suggested attitude
Mrs. Upton, her dusky flush deepened, rose, stumbling a little from her
long stooping, and, steadying herself with her hand on a table, looked at
the new effort.
"No,--it's worse. It's complacent--self-conscious," burst from Jack. "You
look as if you were thinking far more about your own brooding than about
your father. Antigone is self-forgetting; absolutely self-forgetting." So
his rising irritation found impulsive, helpless expression. In the slight
silence that followed his words he was aware of the discord that he had
crashed into an apparent harmony. He glanced almost furtively at Mrs.
Upton. Had she seen--did she guess--the anger, for her, that had broken
into these peevish words? She met his eyes with her penetrating depth of
gaze, and Imogen, turning to them, saw the interchange; saw Jack abashed
and humble, not before her own forbearance but before her mother's wonder
Resentment had been in her, keen and sharp, from his first criticism; nay,
from his first ignoring of her claim to praise. It rose now to a flood of
righteous indignation. Sweeping round upon them in her white draperies,
casting aside--as in a flash she saw it--petty subterfuge and petty fear,
coldly, firmly, she questioned him:
"I must ask you whether this is mere ill-temper, Jack, or whether you
intentionally wish to wound me. Pray let me have the truth."
Speechless, confused, Jack gazed at her.
She went on, gaining, as she spoke, her usual relentless fluency.
"If you would rather that some one else did the Antigone, pray say so
frankly. It will be a relief to me to give up my part. I am very tired.
I have a great deal to do. You know why I took up the added burden. My
motives make me quite indifferent to petty, personal considerations.
All that, from the first, I have had in mind, was to help, to the best
of my poor ability. Whom would you rather have? Rose?--Mary?--Clara
Bartlett?--Why not mama? I will gladly help any one of them with all that I
have learnt from you as to dress and pose. But I cannot, myself, go on with
the part if such malignant dissatisfaction is to be wreaked upon me."
Jack felt his head rise at last from the submerging flood.
"But, Imogen, indeed,--I do beg your pardon. It was odious of me to speak
so. No one can do the part but you."
"Why say that, Jack, when you have just told me that I do it worse and
"It was only a momentary impression. Really, I'm ashamed of myself."
"But it's your impression that is the standard in those tableaux. How can I
do the part if I contradict your conception?"
"You can't. I was in a bad temper."
"And why, may I ask, were you in a bad temper?"
The gaze from her serene yet awful brows was bent upon him, but under it,
in a sudden reaction from its very serenity, its very awfulness, a firm
determination rose in him to meet it. Turning very red but eyeing Imogen
very straight: "I thought you inconsiderate, ungrateful, to your mother, as
you often are," he said.
For a long moment Imogen was silent, glancing presently at Mary--scarlet
with dismay, her hastily adjusted eye-glasses in odd contrast to her
classic draperies--and then turning her eyes upon her mother who, still
standing near the table, was frowning and looking down.
"Well, mama dear," she asked, "what have you to say to this piece of
information? Have I, all unconsciously, been unkind? Have I been
ungrateful? Do you share Jack's sense of injury?"
Mrs. Upton looked up as though from painful and puzzling reflection.
"My dear Imogen," she said, "I think that you and Jack are rather
self-righteous young people, far too prone to discussing yourselves. I
think that you were a little inconsiderate; but Jack has no call to take up
my defense or to express any opinion as to our relations. Of course you
will do the Antigone, and of course, when he recovers his temper,--and I
believe he has already,--he will be very glad that you should. And now
let's have no more of this foolish affair."
None of them had ever heard her make such a measured, and, as it were,
such a considered speech before, and the unexpectedness of it so wrought
upon them that it reduced not only Jack but even the voluble Antigone to
silence. But in Jack's silence was an odd satisfaction, even an elation.
He didn't mind his own humiliation--that of an officious little boy put in
a corner--one bit; for there in the corner opposite was Imogen, actually
Imogen, and the sight of it gave him a shameful pleasure.
Meanwhile Mrs. Upton calmly resumed her work at the hem, finished it,
turned her daughter about and pronounced it all quite right.
"Now get into warmer clothes and come down to tea, which will be here
directly," she said.
Imogen, by now, was recovered from the torpor of her astonishment.
"Mary, will you come with me, I'll want your help." And then, as Mary, whom
alone she could count as an ally, joined her, she paused before departure,
gathering her chlamys about her. "If I am silent, mama, pray don't imagine
that it is you who have silenced me," she said. "I certainly could not
think of defending myself to you. My character, with all its many faults,
speaks for itself with those who understand me and what I aim at. All I ask
of you, mama, is not to imagine, for a moment, that you are one of those."
So Antigone, white, smiling, wrathful, swept away, Mary behind her,
round-eyed and aghast, and Valerie was left confronting the overwhelmed
He could find not one word to say, and for some moments Valerie, too, stood
silent, slipping her needle back and forth in her fingers and looking hard
at the carpet.
"It's all my fault!" Jack burst out suddenly. "Blundering, silly fool that
I am! Do say that you forgive me."
She did not look at him, but, still slipping her needle with the minute,
monotonous gesture back and forth, she nodded.
"But say it," Jack protested. "Scold me as much as you please. It's all
true; I'm a prig, I know. But say that you forgive me."
A smile quivered on her cheek, and putting out her hand she answered:
"There's nothing to forgive, Jack. I lost my temper, too. And it's all mere
He seized her hand, and then, only then, realized from something in the
quiver of the smile, something muffled in the lightness of her voice, that
she was crying.
"Oh!" broke from him; "oh! what brutes we are!"
She had drawn her hand from his in a moment, had turned from him while she
swiftly put her handkerchief to her eyes, and after the passage of the
scudding rain-cloud she confronted him clearly once more.
"Why, it's all my fault,--don't you know,--from the beginning," she said.
He understood her perfectly. She had never been so near him.
"You _know_ that's not true," he said. And then, at last, his eyes, widely
upon her, told her on which side his sympathies were enlisted in the
long-drawn contest between,--not between poor Imogen and herself, that was
a mere result--but between herself and her husband.
And that she understood his understanding became at once apparent to him.
He had never seen her blush as she blushed then, and when the deep glow had
passed she became very white and looked very weary, almost old.
"No, I don't know it, Jack," she said. "And you, certainly, do not. And
now, dear Jack, don't let us speak of this any more. Will you help me to
clear this table for the tea-things."
* * * * *
So this, for Imogen, was the result of her loving impulse during the frosty
walk down Fifth Avenue. All her sweet, wordless appeals had been in vain.
Jack had admired her as he might have admired a marionette; her beauty had
meant less to him than her mother's dressmaking; and as she sat alone in
her room on that afternoon, having gently and firmly sent Mary down to tea
with the ominous message that she cared for none, she saw that the shadow
between her and Jack loomed close upon them now, the shadow that would blot
out all their future, as a future together. And Imogen was frightened,
badly frightened, at the prospect of that empty future.
Her fragrant branch of life that had bloomed so fully and freshly in her
hand, a scepter and a fairy wand of beneficence, had withered to a thorny
scourge for her own shoulders. She looked about her, before her. She
realized with a new, a cutting keenness, that Jack was very rich and she
very poor. The chill of poverty had hardly reached her as yet, the warm
certainty of its cessation had wrapped her round too closely; but it
reached her now, and the thought of that poverty, unrelieved, perhaps, for
all her life, the thought of the comparative obscurity to which it would
consign her, filled her with a real panic; and, as before, the worst part
of the panic was that she should feel it, she, the scorner of material
things. Suppose, just suppose, that no one else came. Everything grew gray
at the thought. Charities, friends, admiration, these were poor substitutes
for the happy power and pride that as a rich man's adored wife would have
been hers. And the fact that had transformed her blossoming branch into the
thorny scourge was that Jack's adored wife she would never be. His humbled,
his submissive, his chastened and penitent wife,--yes, on those terms; yes,
she could see it, the future, like a sunny garden which one could only
reach by squeezing oneself through some painfully narrow aperture. The
fountains, the flowers, the lawns were still hers--if she would stoop and
crawl; and for Imogen the mere imagining of herself in such a posture
brought a hot blush to her forehead. Not only would she have scorned such
means of reaching the life of ample ease and rich benevolence, but they
were impossible to her nature. A garden that one must crouch to enter was
a prison. Better, far better, her barren, dusty, lonely life than such
humiliation; such apostasy.
She faced it all often, the future, the panic, during the last days of
preparation for the tableaux, days during which, with a still magnanimity,
she fulfilled the tasks that she had undertaken. She would not throw up her
part because her mother and Jack had so cruelly injured her; it was now for
her father and for the crippled children alone that she did it.
Sitting in her bedroom with its many books and photographs, the big framed
one of her father over her bed, she promised him, her eyes on his, that
she would have strength to face it all, for all her life if necessary. "It
was too easy, I see that now," she whispered to him. "I had made no real
sacrifices for _our_ thing. The drop of black blood had never yet been
crushed out of my heart,--for when you died, it was submission that was
asked of me, not sacrifice. It was easy, dear, to give myself to the work
we believed in--to be tired, and strong, and glad for it--to live out
bravely into the world--when you were beside me and when all the means of
work were in my hand. But now I must relinquish something that I could
only keep by being false to myself--to you--to the right. And I must go
uphill--'yes, uphill to the very end'--accepting poverty, loneliness, the
great need of love, unanswered. But I won't falter or forget, darling
father. As long as I live I will fight our fight. Even if the way is
through great darkness, I carry the light in my heart."
The noble pathos of such soliloquies brought her to tears, but the tears,
she felt, were strengthening and purifying. After drying them, after
reading some of the deeply marked passages in the poets that he and
she,--and, oh, alas! alas! she and Jack, lost Jack--had so often read
together, she would go down-stairs, descend into the dusty, thorny arena
again, feeling herself uplifted, feeling a halo of sorrowful benignity
about her head. And this feeling was so assured that those who saw her at
these moments were forced, to some extent, to share it.
Toward her mother, toward Jack, she showed a gentle, a distant courtesy;
to Mary a heartbreaking sweetness. Mary, perhaps, needed to have pettier
impressions effaced, and certain memories could but fade before Imogen's
august head and unfaltering eyes.
If she had been wrong in that strange little scene of the Antigone, Mary
was convinced that her intention had been high. Jack had hurt her too much;
that was it; and, besides, how could she know what had gone on behind
the scenes, passages between mother and daughter that had made Imogen's
attitude inevitable. So Mary argued with herself, sadly troubled. "Oh,
Imogen, please tell me," she burst forth one day, the day before the
tableaux, when she was sitting with Imogen in the latter's room; "what is
it that makes you so sad? Why are you so displeased with Jack? You haven't
given him up, Imogen!"
Imogen passed her hand softly over Mary's hair, recalling, as she did so,
that the gesture was a favorite one with her father.
"Won't you, can't you tell me?" Mary pleaded.
"It is so difficult, dear. Given him up? No, I never do that with people I
have cared for; but he is no longer the Jack I cared for. He is changed,
"He adores you as much as ever,--of course I've always known how he adored
you; it made me so happy, loving you both as I do; and he still adores you
I'm sure. He is always watching you. He changes color when you come into
"He, too, knows and feels what ominous destinies are hanging over us,
Mary." The deeply marked passages had been in Maeterlinck that day. "We are
parted, perhaps forever, because he sees at last that I will not stoop.
When one has grown up, all one's life, straight, facing the sunrise, one
cannot bend and look down."
"_You_ stoop! Why it's that that he would never let you do!"
"No? You think that, after the other day? _He_ has stooped, Mary, to other
levels. He breathes a different air from mine now. I cannot follow him into
his new world."
"You mean?--you mean?--" Mary faltered.
Imogen's clear eyes told her what she meant; it did not need the slow
acquiescence of her head nor the articulated, "Yes, I mean mama.--Poor
mama. A little person can make great sorrows, Mary."
But now Mary's good, limpid eyes, unfaltering and candid as a child's,
dwelt on her with a new hope. "But, Imogen, it's just that: _is_ she so
little? She isn't like you, of course. She can't lift and sustain, as you
can. She doesn't stand for great things, as you do and as your father did.
But I seem to feel more and more how much she could be to you.--It only
needs-more _understanding_; and, if that's all, I really believe, Imogen
darling, that you and Jack will be all right again. Perhaps," Mary went
on with a terrible unconsciousness, "perhaps he has come to understand,
already, better than you do,--I thought that, really, the other day,--and
it's that that makes the sense of division. You are at different places of
understanding. And he hasn't to remember, and get over, all the mistakes,
the faults in her past; and perhaps it's because of that that he sees the
present reality more clearly than you do. Jack is such a wonderful person
for seeing the _real_ self of people."
Imogen's steady gaze, during this speech, continued to rest unwaveringly
upon her; Mary felt no warning in it and, when she had done, waited eagerly
for some echo to her faith.
But when Imogen spoke, it was in a voice that revealed to her her profound
"_You_ do not understand, Mary. _You_ see nothing. Her present self is her
past self, unchanged, unashamed, unatoned for. It is her mistakes, her
faults, that Jack now stands for. It is her mistakes and faults that _I_
must stand for, if I am to be beside him again. That would be the stooping
that I meant. I fear that not only Jack but you are blinded, Mary. I fear
that it is not only Jack but you that she is taking from me." Her voice was
calm, but the steely edge of an accusation was in it.
Mary sat aghast. "Taking me from you! Oh, Imogen, you don't mean that you
won't care for me if I get fond of her!"
The crudely simple interpretation brought the blood to Imogen's cheeks. "I
mean that you can hardly be fond of us both. It is not _I_ who will cease
to care." Under the accusation was now an added note of pain and of appeal.
All Mary's faiths rallied to that appeal.
"Imogen!" she said, timidly, like the wrong-doer she felt herself to
be, taking the other's hand; "dear, brave, wonderful Imogen,--how _can_
you--how _can_ you say it! Why there is hardly any one in the world who has
counted to me as you have. Why, your mother is like a sweet child beside
you! She hasn't faiths; she hasn't that healing, strengthening thing that
I've always so felt in you. She could never _mean_ what you do. Oh, Imogen!
you won't think such dreadful things, will you? You do forgive me if I have
blundered and hurt you?"
Imogen drew in the fragrant incense with long breaths; it revived her,
filled her veins with new courage, new hope. The two girls kissed solemnly.
They were going out together and they presently went down-stairs hand in
hand. But as an after-flavor there lingered for Imogen, like a faint, flat
bitterness after the incense, a suspicion that Mary, in wafting her censer
with such energy, had been seeking to fill her own nostrils, also, with the
sacred old aroma, to find, as well as give, the intoxication of faith.
"Sir Basil!" Valeria exclaimed.
She rose from the tea-table, where she and Jack and Mrs. Wake were sitting,
to meet the unexpected new-comer.
A gladness that Jack had never seen in her seemed to inundate her face,
her figure, her outstretched hands; she looked young, she looked almost
childlike, as she smiled at her friend over their clasp, and Jack saw, by
the light of that transfiguration, how gray these last months must have
been to her, how strangely bereft of response and admiration, how without
savor or sweetness. He saw, and with the insight came a sharp stir of
bitterness against the new-comer, who threw them all like this into a dull
background, and, at the same time, a real echo of her gladness, that she
should have it.
He actually, in the sharp, swift twist of feeling, hardly remembered
Imogen's forecasts and warnings, hardly remembered that Mrs. Upton's
gladness and Sir Basil's beaming gaze put Imogen quite dreadfully in the
right. He did not think of Imogen at all, nor of the desecration of the
house of mourning by this gladness, so absorbed was he in watching it, in
sharing it, and in being hurt by it.
"Mrs. Wake, of course, is an old friend," Valerie said, leading Sir Basil
up to the tea-table; "and here is a new one--Jack Pennington, whom you must
quite know already, I've written so much about him. Sit down here. Tell me
all about everything. Why this sudden appearance? Why no hint of it? Is it
meant as a surprise for us?"
"Well, Frances and Tom were coming over, you knew that--"
"Of course. I wrote Frances a steamer letter the day before yesterday. You
got in this morning with them then? They said not a word of your coming
when I last heard from them."
"I only decided to join them at the last minute. I thought that it would be
good fun to drop upon you like this, so I didn't write. It _is_ good to see
you again." Sir Basil, while his beam seemed to include the room and its
inmates, included them unseeingly; he had eyes, it was evident, only for
her. He went on to give her messages from the Pakenhams, in New York but
for a week on their way to Canada and eager to see her at once. They would
have come with him had they not been rather knocked up by the early rise on
the steamer and by the long wait at the custom-house.
"You must all come with me to-morrow to our tableaux," said Valerie.
"Imogen is in them. She is out this afternoon, so you will see her for the
first time at her loveliest. She is to be Antigone."
"Oh, so I sha'n't see her till to-morrow. I've always been a bit afraid of
Miss Upton, you know," said Sir Basil, with a smile at Jack.
"Well, the first impression will be a reassuring one," said Valerie.
"Antigone is the least alarming of heroines."
"I don't know about that," Sir Basil objected, folding a slice of bread and
butter, "A bit gruesome, don't you think?"
"She stuck so to her own ideas, didn't she? Awfully rough on the poor
fellow who wanted to marry her, insisting like that on burying her
Valerie laughed. "Well, but that sense of duty is hardly gruesome; it would
have been horridly gruesome to have left her brothers unburied."
"You'll worst me in an argument, of course," Sir Basil replied, looking
fondly at her; "but I maintain that she's a dreary young lady. Of course I
don't mean to say that she wasn't an exceedingly good girl, and all that
sort of thing, but a bit of a prig, you must allow."
Jack listened to the bantering colloquy. This man, so hard, yet so kindly,
so innocent, yet so mature, was making him feel by every tone, gesture,
glance, oddly boyish and unformed. He was quite sure that he himself was a
great deal cleverer, a great deal more conscious, than Sir Basil; but these
advantages somehow assumed the aspect of schoolboy badges of good conduct
beside a grown-up standard. And, as he listened, he began to understand far
more deeply all sorts of things about Valerie; to see what vacancies she
had had to put up with, to see what fullness she must have missed. And he
began to understand what Imogen, Cassandra-like, had declared, that the
unseasonable fragrance of devotions hovered about her widowed mother; to
remember the ominous "Wait and see."
It showed how far he had traveled when he could recall these words with
impatience: could answer them with: "Well, what of it? Doesn't she deserve
some compensation?"--could quietly place Sir Basil as a no longer hopeless
adorer and feel a thrill of satisfaction, in the realization. Yes, sitting
here here in the house of mourning he could think these things.
But if he was so wide, so tolerant, the very expansion of his sympathies
brought them a finer sensitiveness. Only a tendril-like fineness could
penetrate the complexities of that deeper vision. He began to think of
Imogen, and with a new pity, a new tenderness. How she would be hurt,
and how, more than all, she would be hurt by seeing that he, while
understanding, while sympathizing, should, helplessly, inevitably, be glad
that Sir Basil had come. Poor Imogen,--and poor himself; for where did he
stand among all these shiftings of the scene? He, too, knew the drifting
loneliness and desolation, and though his heart ached for the old nearness
he could not put out his hand to her nor take a step toward her. In
himself, in her, was the change, or the mere fate, that held them parted.
The wrench had come slowly upon them, but, while he ached with the pain
of it, he could already look upon it as accomplished. Only one question
remained to be asked:--Would nothing, no change, no fate, draw them again
For all answer a deep, settled sadness descended upon him.
Sir Basil took himself off before Mrs. Wake seemed to think it tactful to
depart, and since, soon after, she too went, Jack and Valerie were left
She turned her bright, soft eyes upon the young man and he recognized in
them the unseeing quality that he had found in Sir Basil's--that happy
preoccupation with inner gladness. She made him think of the bird alighted
to sing on the swaying blade; and she made him think of a fountain released
from winter and springing through sunlight in a murmur and sparkle of
ecstasy. She was young, very young; he almost felt her as young in her
gladness as he in his loneliness and pain. Smiling a trifle nervously, he
said that he was glad, at last, to see something of her old life. "Of your
real life," he added.
"My real life?" she repeated, and her look became more aware of him.
"Yes. Of course, in a sense, all this is something outlived, cast aside,
for you. You've only taken it up for a bit while you felt that it had a
claim upon you; but, once you have settled things, you would,--you would
leave us, of course," said Jack, still smiling.
She was thinking of him now, no longer of herself and of Sir Basil, and
perhaps, as she looked at him, at the thin brown face, the light, deep
eyes, she guessed at a stir of tears under the smile. It was then as if the
fountain sank from its own happy solitude and became a running brook of
sweetness, sad, yet merry. She didn't contradict him. She was sorry that
she couldn't, yet glad that his statement should be so obviously true.
"You mean that I'll go back to my little Surrey cottage, when I settle
things?" she said. "Perhaps, yes. And you will miss me? I will miss you
too, dear Jack. But we will often see each other. And then it may take a
long time to settle all you young people."
Her confidence so startled him, so touched him with pity for its blindness,
that, swiftly, he took refuge in ambiguity.
"Oh, you'll settle us!" he said, wondering in what that settling would
consist, wondering what would happen if Imogen, definitely casting him off,
to put the final settling in that form, were left on her mother's hands.
She would have to settle Imogen in America and what, in the meanwhile,
would become of her "real" life?
But from the mother's confidence, her radiance, that accepted his speech
in its happiest meaning, he guessed that she didn't foresee such a
contingency; he even guessed that, were she brought face to face with it,
she wouldn't accept its unsettling of her own joy as final. The fountain
was too strong to heed such obstacles. It would find its way to the
sunlight. Imogen, in time, would have to accept a step-father.
Jack did not witness the revelation to Imogen of the ominous arrival, but
from her demeanor at lunch next day he could guess at how it had impressed
her. He felt in her an intense, a guarded, excitement, and knew that the
news had fallen upon her with a tingling concussion. The sound of the
thunder-bolt must reverberate all the louder in Imogen's ears from her
consciousness that to Mary's it was soundless, Mary, who had been the
only spectator of its falling. Her mother, too, was unconscious of such
reverberations, so that it must seem to her a ghost-like subjective
warning, putting into audible form all her old hauntings.
That she at once sought in him evidences of the same experience, Jack
felt, and all through the early lunch, where they assembled prior to his
departure with the two girls for the theater, he avoided meeting Imogen's
eyes. He was too sure that she felt their mutual knowledge as a bond over
the recent chasm. The knowledge in his own eyes was far too deep for him to
allow her to wade into it; she would simply drown. He was rather ashamed of
himself, but he resolutely feigned a cheerful unconsciousness.
"You are going with your friends, later?" he asked Valerie, who, he was
quite sure, also feigning something, said that since Imogen and Mary
dressed each other so well, and since he would be there to see that every
detail was right, she, with the Pakenhams and Sir Basil, would get her
impression from the stalls. Afterward, they would all meet here for tea.
"It was a surprise, you know, their coming," Imogen put in suddenly, from
her end of the table, fixing strangely sparkling eyes upon Jack.
"No," said her mother, in tones of leisurely correction, "I expected the
Pakenhams, as I told you."
"Oh, yes; it was only Sir Basil's surprise. You didn't expect him. Does he
like playing surprises on people, mama?"
"I don't know that he does."
"He only plays them on you."
"I knew that he was coming, at some time."
"Ah, but you didn't tell me that; it was, in the main, _my_ surprise, then;
but not so soon, I suppose."
"So soon? So soon for what?"
Imogen, at this, allowed her badly adjusted mask of lightness to fall and a
sudden solemnity overspread her features.
"Don't you feel it rather soon for friends to play pranks, mama?"
The words seemed to erect a catafalque before their eyes, but, facing the
nodding blackness with a calm in which Jack detected the glint of steel,
Valerie answered: "I am not aware that they have been playing pranks."
For all the way to the theater Imogen again assumed the mask, talking
exclusively to Mary. She talked of these friends of her mother's, of Sir
Basil, Mr. and Mrs. Pakenham, what she had heard of them; holding up, as if
for poor, frightened Mary's delectation, an impartial gaily sketched little
portrait of their oddities. It was as if she felt it her duty to atone
to Mary by her lightness and gaiety for the gloom that had overspread the
lunch; as if she wished to assure Mary that she wouldn't allow her to
suffer for other people's ill-temper,--Mrs. Upton had certainly been very
silent for the rest of that uncomfortable meal,--as if it were for Mary's
sake that she were assuming the mask, behind which, as Jack must know, she
was in torture.
"I'm glad you're to see them, Mary darling; they will amuse you. From your
standpoint of reality, the standpoint of Puritan civilization--the deepest
civilization the world has yet produced; the civilization that judges by
the soul--you will be able to judge and place them as few of our people
are, as yet, developed enough to do. They are of that funny English type,
Mary, the leisured; their business in life that of pleasure seeking; their
social service consisting in benevolent domination over the servile classes
beneath them. Oh, they have their political business, too; we mustn't be
unfair; though that consists, in the main, for people of their type, in
maintaining their own place as donors and in keeping other people in the
place of recipients. In their own eyes, I'm quite sure, they are useful,
as upholding the structure of English civilization. You'll find them
absolutely simple, absolutely self-assured, absolutely indifferent, quite
charming,--there's no reason why they shouldn't be; but their good manners
are for themselves, not for you,--one must never forget that with the
English. Do study them, Mary. We need to keep the fact of them clearly
before us, for what they represent is a menace to us and to what we mean.
I sometimes think that the future of the world depends upon which ideal
is to win, ours or the English. We must arm ourselves with complete
comprehension. Already they have infected the cruder types among us."
These were all sentiments that in the past, Mary felt sure, Jack must have
acquiesced in and approved of, and yet she felt surer that Imogen's manner
of enunciating them was making Jack very angry. She herself did not find
them as inspiring as she might have expected, and looking very much
frightened and flurried she murmured that as she was to go back to Boston
next day she would not have much opportunity for all this observation.
"Besides--I don't believe that I'm so--so wise--so civilized, you know, as
to be able to see it all."
"Oh, Imogen will tell you what to see!" said Jack.
"It's very kind of her, I'm sure," poor Mary faltered. She could have burst
into tears. These two!--these beloved two!
Meanwhile, at a little later hour, Valerie and Mrs. Wake made their way to
the theater, there to meet the group of friends from whom they had parted
in England six months before.
The Pakenhams, full of question and comment, were intelligently amassing
well-assorted impressions of the country that was new to them. Sir Basil,
though cheerfully pleased with all to which his attention was drawn, showed
no particular interest in his surroundings. His concentration was entirely
for his regained friend.
After her welcoming radiance of the day before, Valerie looked pale and
weary, and when, with solicitude, he asked her whether she were not tired,
she confessed to having slept badly.
"She's changed, you know," Sir Basil said to Mrs. Pakenham, when they were
settled in their seats, and Valerie, beside him, was engaged in pointing
out people to Tom Pakenham. "It's been frightfully hard on her, all this,
"She's as charming as ever," said Mrs. Pakenham.
"Oh, well, that could never change. But what a shame that she should have
had, all along, such a lot to go through." Sir Basil, as a matter of
course, had the deepest antipathy for the late Mr. Upton.
The tableaux struck at once the note of success. Saved by Jack's skill from
any hint of waxwork or pantomime, their subtle color and tranquil light
made each picture a vision of past time, an evocation of Hellenic beauty
Cassandra in her car--her face (oh, artful Jack!) turned away,--awful
before the door of Agamemnon; Iphigenia, sleeping, on her way to the
sacrifice; Helen, before her husband and Hecuba; Alcestis, returning from
the grave, and Deianira with the robe. The old world of beauty and sorrow,
austere and lovely in its doom, passed before modern eyes against its
background of sky, grove, and palace steps.
"And now," said Valerie, when the lights sprang out for the interval, "now
for your introduction to Imogen. They have made her the climax, you see."
"He did, you mean. The young man."
"Yes, Jack arranged it all."
"He's the one you wrote of, of course, who admires her so tremendously."
"He is the one."
"In fact he'll carry her off from you some day, soon, eh?" Sir Basil
ventured with satisfaction in his own assurance. He, too, felt that Imogen
must be "settled."
"I suppose so," said Valerie. "I couldn't trust her to any one more
happily. He understands her and cares for her absolutely."
Sir Basil at this ventured a little further, voicing both satisfaction and
anxiety with: "So, then, you'll come back--to--to Surrey."
"Yes, then, I think, I can come back to Surrey," Valerie replied.
The heart of her feeling had always remained for him a mystery, and her
acquiescence now might mean a great deal, everything, in fact, or it might
mean only her gliding composure before a situation that she had power to
form as she would. He could observe that her color rose. He knew that she
blushed easily. He knew, too, that his own feeling was not hidden from her
and that the blush might be for her recognition only; yet he was occupied
with the most hopeful interpretations when the curtain rose. A moment after
its rising Valerie heard him softly ejaculate, "I say!" She could have
echoed the helplessly rudimentary, phrase. She, too, gazed, in a stupor
of delight; a primitive emotion in it. The white creature standing there
before them, with her forward poise, her downcast yet upgazing face, was
her child. Valerie, since her return to her home, had given little time
to analysis of her own feeling, the stress of her situation had been too
intense for leisurely self-observation. But in the upwelling of a strange,
a selfless, joy she knew, now, how often she had feared that all the joy of
maternity was dead in her; killed, killed by Imogen.
The joy now was a passing ray. The happy confusion of admiration, wonder,
and pride was blotted out by the falling gloom of reality. It was her
child who stood there, but the bond between them seemed, but for the ache
of rejected maternity at her heart, a pictorial one merely. Tears of
bitterness involuntarily filled her eyes as she looked, and Imogen's form
seemed to waver in a dim, an alien atmosphere.
When the curtain fell on the Antigone who kept her pose without a tremor,
the uproar of applause was so great that it had to rise, not only twice,
but three times. At the last, a faint wavering shook slightly the
Antigone's sculptured stillness and poor old Oedipus rocked obviously upon
"What a shame to make her keep it up for so long!" murmured Sir Basil, his
face suffused with sympathy. The symptom of human weakness was a final
touch to the enchantment.
"Well, it makes one selfish, such loveliness!" said Mrs. Pakenham, flushed
with her clapping. "Valerie, dear, she is quite too lovely!"
"Extraordinarily Greek, the whole thing," said Tom Pakenham; "the
comparative insignificance of facial expression and the immense
significance of attitude and outline."
"But the face!" Sir Basil turned an unseeing eye upon him, still wrapped,
it was evident, in the vision that, at last, had disappeared. "The figure
is perfect; but the face,--I never saw anything so heavenly."
Indeed, in its slightly downcast pose, the trivial lines of Imogen's nose
and chin had been lost; the up-gazing eyes, the sweep of brow and hair, had
dominated and transfigured her somewhat tamely perfect countenance.
"Do you know, I'm more afraid of her than ever," said Sir Basil to Valerie
on their way home to tea, in the cab. "I wasn't really afraid before. I
could have borne up very well; but now--it's like knowing that one is to
have tea with a seraph."
Jack, Imogen, and Mary were not yet arrived when they reached the house;
but by the time the tea was on the table and Valerie in her place behind
the urn, they heard the cab drive up and the feet of the young people on
Jack entered alone, saying that Mary and Imogen were gone to take off their
wraps. Yes, he assured Valerie, they had promised to keep on their Grecian
robes for tea.
Valerie introduced him to the Pakenhams and led the congratulations on his
triumph. "For it really is yours, Jack, as much as if you had painted the
whole series of pictures."
Jack, looking shy, turned from one to the other as they seconded her
enthusiasm,--Mrs. Pakenham, with her elaborately formal head and china-blue
eyes; her husband, robust and heavy; Sir Basil, still with his benignant,
unseeing quality. Among them all, in spite of Mrs. Wake's keen, familiar
visage, in spite of Valerie's soft glow, he felt himself a stranger. He
even felt, with a little stab of ill-temper, that there had been truth
in Imogen's diagnosis. They were kindly, but they were tremendously
indifferent. They didn't at all expect you to be interested in them; but
that hardly atoned for the fact that they weren't interested in you. For
Jack, life was made up of vigilant, unceasing interest, in himself and in
"Ah, were they all taken from your pictures?" Sir Basil asked him,
strolling up to the mantelpiece to examine a photograph of Imogen that
Jack explained that he could claim no such gallery of achievement. He had
made a few sketches for each tableau; his work had been, in the main, that
"Oh, I see," said Sir Basil, not at all abashed by his blunder. "Nicer than
lay figures to work with, eh? all those pretty young women."
"I don't use lay figures, at any time. I'm a landscape painter," Jack
explained, somewhat stiffly. He surmised that had he been introduced as
Velasquez Sir Basil would have been quite as unmoved, just as he would have
been quite as genially inclined had he been introduced as a scene-painter.
"I used to think I'd go in for something of that sort in my young days,"
said Sir Basil, holding Imogen's photograph; "and I dabbled a bit in
water-color for a time. Do you remember that little sketch of the Hall,
done from the beech avenue, Mrs. Upton? Not so bad, was it?"
"Not at all bad," said Valerie; "but we can't use such negatives for Jack's
work. It's very seriously good, you know. It's anything but dabbling."
"Oh, yes; I know that you are a real artist," Sir Basil smiled at Jack from
the photograph. "This doesn't do her justice, does it?"
"Imogen? No; it's a frightful thing," said Jack over-emphatically.
Mrs. Pakenham asked to see it and pronounced that, for her part, she
thought it excellent.
"You ought to paint her portrait," Sir Basil continued, looking at Jack,
who had, once more, to explain that landscape was his only subject. He
guessed from the something at once benign and faintly quizzical in Sir
Basil's regard, that to all these people he was significant, in the main,
as Imogen's lover, and the intuition vexed him still further.
Imogen's entrance, startling in its splendid incongruity, put an end to his
self-consciousness and absorbed him in contemplation.
Imogen revealed herself newly, even to him, to-day. It wasn't the old
Imogen of stateliness, graciousness, placidity, nor the later one of gloom
and anger. This Imogen, lovely, with her flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes,
was deeply excited, deeply self-forgetful. She, too, was absorbed in her
intense curiosity, her feverish watchfulness.
She said nothing while her mother introduced her to the new-comers, who all
looked a little taken aback, as though the resuscitated Grecian heroine
were indeed among them, and stood silently alert near the tea-table,
handing the cups of tea, the cakes and scones, for Jack and Sir Basil
to pass round. Her arms were bare and her slender bare feet, laced with
gold-clasped fastenings, showed on her white sandals. Jack saw that Sir
Basil's eyes were fixed on her with an expression of wonder.
He asked her, as he took the last cup from her, if she were not cold, and,
gentle, though unsmiling, Imogen replied, "Oh, no!" glancing at the roaring
wood fire, that illuminated her whiteness as if with a sacrificial glow.
"Do sit down and have your tea, Imogen; you must be very tired," her mother
said, with something of the chill that the scene at the lunch-table had
diffused still in her voice.
"Not very, thanks, mama dear," said Imogen; and, more incongruous in
loveliness than before, she sat down in a high-backed chair at some little
distance from the tea-table. Sir Basil, as if with a sort of helplessness,
remained beside her.
"Yes, it was a great success, wasn't it?" Jack heard her replying
presently, while she drank the tea with which Sir Basil had eagerly
supplied her. "I'm so glad."
"You liked doing it, didn't you? You couldn't have done it, like
that--looked like that, if you hadn't cared a lot about it," Sir Basil
Imogen smiled a little and said that she didn't know that she had liked
doing her part particularly,--it was of her crippled children that she was
thinking. "We'll be able to get the Home now," she said.
"It was for cripple children?"
"Didn't you know? I should have thought mama would have told you. Yes, it
all meant that, only that, to me. We gave the tableaux to get enough money
to buy a country home for them."
"You go in a lot for good works, I know," said Sir Basil, and Imogen,
smiling again, with the lightness rooted in excitement, answered: "They go
in for me, rather. All the appeals of suffering seem to come to one and
seize one, don't they? One never needs to seek causes."
Jack watched them talk, Imogen, the daughter of the dead, rejected husband,
and Sir Basil, her mother's suitor.
Mary had come in now, late from changing her dress, which at the last
moment she had felt too shy to appear in. She was talking to Mrs. Wake and
Standing, a somewhat brooding onlooker, becoming conscious, indeed, of the
sense, stronger than ever, of loneliness and bereavement, he heard Mrs.
Upton near him say, "Sit down here, Jack."
She showed him a chair beside her, in the corner, between her tea-table,
the window, and the fire. She, too, was for the moment isolated; she, too,
no doubt, had been watching; and now she talked to him, not at all as if
she had felt that he were lonely and were making it up to him, but, once
more, like the child happily gathering and holding out nosegays to another
A controlled excitement was in her, too; and he felt still that slight
strain of the lunch-table, as if Imogen's catafalque had marred some
too-trustful assurance; but a growing warmth was diffused through it, and,
as her eyes turned once or twice on Imogen and Sir Basil, he saw the cause.
The possibility that her daughter might make friends with her suitor, the
solvent, soothing possibility that, if realized, would so smooth her path,
had come to her. And in their quiet fire-lit corner, shut the closer into
their isolation by the talk that made only a confused murmur about them, he
felt a new frankness in her, as though the hope of the hour effaced ominous
memories and melted her reserves and discretions, making it wholly natural
to draw near him in the implied avowal of shared outlooks.
"I believe that Imogen and Sir Basil are going to get on together," she
said; "I believe that she likes him already. I so want them to be friends.
He is such a friend of mine."
"They look friendly," said Jack; "I think I can always tell when Imogen is
going to like people." He did not add that, with his new insight about
Imogen, he had observed that it was people over whom she had power that
Imogen liked. And already he seemed to see that Imogen would have some sort
of power over Sir Basil.
"And I can always tell when he is going to like people. He thinks her
wonderful," said Valerie. She exchanged her knowledge with him; it was
touching, the way in which, blind to deep change in him, she took for
granted his greater claim to the interpretation of Imogen. She added: "It
is a very propitious beginning, I think."
"How long is Sir Basil going to stay here?" Jack asked.
"All summer. He goes to Canada with the Pakenhams, and out to the West, for
a glimpse of the changes since he was here years and years ago; and then I
want him to come to Vermont, to us. You and Imogen will both get to know
him well there. Of course you are coming; Imogen told me that she asked you
"Yes; I shall enjoy that immensely," the young man answered, with, for his
own consciousness, a touch of irrepressible gloom. He didn't look forward
to the continuation of the drama, to his own lame and merely negative part
in it, at the close quarters of a house-party among the Vermont hills.
And as if Valerie bad felt the inner doubt she added suddenly, on a
different key, "You really will enjoy it, won't you?"
He looked up at her. Her face, illuminated by the firelight, though dimmed
against the evening blue outside, was turned on him with its sudden
intentness and penetration of gaze.
"Why, of course," he almost stammered, confused by the unexpected scrutiny.
"I shall love having you, you know," she said.
"I shall love being with you," he answered, now without a single inner
Her intentness seemed to soften, there was solicitude and a sort of
persuasiveness in it. "And you will have a much better chance of really
adjusting things there--your friendship with Imogen, I mean. The country
smoothes things out. Things get sweet and simple."
He didn't know what to say. Her mistake, if it were one, was so inevitable.
"Imogen will have taken her bearings by then," she went on. "She has had so
much to get accustomed to, to bear with, poor child; her great bereavement,
and--and a mother who, in some ways, must always be a trial to her."
"Oh, a trial!"--Jack lamely murmured.
"I recognize it, Jack. I think that you do. But when she makes up her mind
to me, and discovers that, at all events, I don't interfere with anything
that she really cares about, she will be able to take up all her old
"I--I suppose so," Jack murmured.
He had dropped his eyes, for he knew that hers were on him. And now, in a
lowered voice, he heard her say, "Jack, I hope that you will help me with
"Help you? How do you mean?" startled, he looked up.
"You know. Interpret me to her now and then, when you can, with kindliness.
You understand me so much more kindly than she does."
His eyes fixed on hers, deeply flushing--"Oh, but,"--he breathed out with
almost a long sigh,--"that's what I have done, you see, ever since--"
"Ever since what?"
"Since I came to understand you so much better than she does."
There was a long pause now and, the firelight flickering low, he could
hardly see her face. But he recognized change in her voice as she said:
"You have? I don't mean, you know, taking my side in disputes."
"I know; I don't mean that, either, though, perhaps, I can't help doing it;
for," said Jack, "it's on your side that I am, you know."
The change in her voice, but controlled, kept down, she answered quickly,
"Ah, but, dear Jack, I don't want to have a side. It's that that I want her
to realize. I want her to feel that my side is hers. I want you to help me
in making her feel it."
"But she'll never feel it!" Jack breathed out again. Behind the barrier
of the tea-table, in the flickering dimness, they were speaking suddenly
with a murmuring, yet so sharp a confidence; a confidence that in broad
daylight, or in complete solitude, might have seemed impossible. All sorts
of things must steal out in that persuasive, that peopled yet solitary,
He knew that Valerie's eyes dwelt on him with anxiety and that it was with
a faint, forced smile that she asked him: "She doesn't think that I'll ever
reach her side?"
"_I_ don't believe you ever will," said Jack. Then, for he couldn't bear
that she should misunderstand him for another moment, misunderstanding
when they had come so far was too unendurable, he went on in a hurried
undertone: "You aren't on her side, really. You can never be on her side.
You can never be like her, or see like her. And I don't want you to. It's
you who see clearly, not she. It's you who are all right."
Her long silence, after this, seemed to him like the hovering of hands upon
him; as though, in darkness, she sought by touch to recognize some strange
object put before her.
"But then,--" she, too, only breathed it out at last,--"but then,--you are
not on _her_ side."
"That's just it," said Jack. He did not look at her and she was silent once
more before his confession.
"But," she again took up the search, "that is terrible for her, if she
"And for me, too, isn't it?" he questioned, as if he turned the surfaces of
the object beneath her fingers.
The soft, frightened hover seemed to go all over it, to recognize it
finally, and to draw back, terrified, from recognition.
"Most terrible of all for me, if I have come between you," she said.
Her pain pierced him so, that he put out his hand and took hers. Don't
think that; you mustn't think that, not for a moment. It's not that you
came between us. It's only that, because of you, I began to see things--as
I hadn't seen them. It was just,--well, just like seeing one color change
when another is put beside it. Imogen's blue, now that your gold has come,
is turned to green; that's all that has happened."
"All that has happened! Do you know what you are saying, Jack! If my gold
were gone, would the blue come back again?"
"The blue will never come back," said Jack.
He felt, as her hand tightened on his, that he would have liked to put his
head down on her knees and sob like a little boy; but when she said, "And
the green you cannot care for?" his own hand tightened as if they clutched
some secret together, some secret that neither must dare look at. "You
mustn't think that--you mustn't. And I mustn't." He said it with all the
revolt and all the strength of his will and loyalty; with all his longing,
too. "The real truth is that the green can't care for me unless I will see
it back to blue again--and as I can't do that, and as it won't accept my
present vision, there is a sort of dead-lock."
For a long moment her hand continued to grasp his, before, as if taking in
the ambiguous comfort of his final definiteness, it relaxed and she drew it
"Perhaps she will care enough," she said.
"To accept my vision? To forego blue? To consent that I shall see her as
"Yes, when she has taken up all the threads."
"Perhaps she will," said Jack.
It was a few days after this, just before Jack's return to Boston--and the
parting now was to be until they met in Vermont--that he and Imogen had
another walk, another talk together.
The mid-May had become seasonably mild and, at Jack's suggestion, they had
taken the elevated cars up to Central Park for the purpose of there seeing
the wistaria in its full bloom.
They strolled in the sunlight under arbors rippling all over with the
exquisite purple, dark and pale, the thin fine leaves of a strange
olive-green, the delicate tendrils; they passed into open spaces where,
on gray rocks, it streamed like the tresses of a cascade; it climbed and
heaped itself on wayside trellises and ran nimbly, in a shower of fragile
color, up the trunks, along the branches, of the trees. Jack always
afterward associated the soft, falling purple, the soft, languorous
fragrance, the almost uncanny beauty of the wistaria, with melancholy and
Imogen, for the first time since her father's death, showed a concession to
the year's revival in a transparent band of white at her neck and wrists.
Her little hat, too, was of transparent black, its crape put aside. But,
though she and the day shared in bloom and youthfulness, Jack had never
seen her look more heavily bodeful; had never seen her eyes more fixed, her
lips more cold and stern. The excitement that he had felt in her was gone.
Her curiosity, her watchfulness, had been satisfied, and grimly rewarded.
She faced sinister facts. Jack felt himself ready to face them, too.
They had spoken little in the clattering car, and for a long time after
they reached the park and walked hither and thither among its paths,
following at random the beckoning purple of the wistaria, neither spoke
of anything but commonplaces; indicating points of view, or assenting to
appreciations. But Imogen said at last, and he knew that with the words she
led him up to those facts: "Do you remember, Jack, the day we met mama, you
and I, on the docks?"
Jack replied that he did.
"What a different day from this," said Imogen, "with its frosty glory, its
challenge, its strength."
"And how different our lives are," said Imogen.
He did not reply for some moments, and it was then to say gently that he
hoped they were not so different as, perhaps, they seemed.
"It is not I who have changed, Jack," said Imogen, looking before her. And
going on, as though she wished to hear no reply to this: "Do you remember
how we felt as the steamer came in? We determined that _she_ should change
nothing, that we wouldn't yield to any menace of the things we were then
united in holding dear. It's strange, isn't it, to see how subtly she has
changed everything? It's as if our frosty, sparkling landscape, all wind
and vigor and discipline, were suddenly transformed to this,--" Imogen
looked about her at the limpid day,--"to soft yielding, soft color, soft
perfume,--it's like mama, that fragrance of the wistaria,--to something
smiling, languid, alluring. This is the sort of day on which one drifts.
Our past day was a day of steering."
As much as for the meaning of her careful words, Jack felt rising in him an
anger against the sense of a readiness prepared beforehand. "You describe
it all very prettily, Imogen," he answered, mastering the anger. "But I
don't agree with you."
"You seldom do now, Jack. Perhaps it's because I've remained in my own
climate while you have been borne by the 'warm, sweet, harmless' current
into this one."
"I am not conscious of any tendency to drift, Imogen. I still steer. I
intend, very firmly, always to steer."
"To what, may I ask?"
He was silent for a moment; then said, lifting eyes in which she read
all that new steeliness of opposition, with, yet, in it, through it, the
sadness of hopeless appeal: "I believe in all our ideals--just as I used
To this Imogen made no rejoinder.
"Do you like Sir Basil?" she asked presently, after, for some time, they
had turned along the windings of a long path in a heavy silence.
"I've hardly seen him." Jack's voice had a forced lightness, as though for
relief at the change of subject; but he guessed that the change was only
apparent. "He is very nice; very delightful looking."
"Yes; very delightful looking. Do you happen to remember what I said to you
about him, long ago, in the winter? About him and mama?"
"Yes"; Jack flushed; "I remember."
"I told you to wait."
"Yes; you told me to wait."
"You will own now, I hope, that I was right."
"Right in thinking that he--that they were more than friends?"
"Right in thinking that he was in love with her; that she allowed it."
"I suppose you were right."
"I was right. And it's more than that now. I have every reason to believe
that she intends to marry him."
He ignored her portentous pause and drop of the voice, walking on with
downcast eyes. "You mean, it's an accepted thing?"
"Oh, no! not yet accepted. Mama respects the black edge, you know. But I
heard Mrs. Wake and Mrs. Pakenham talking about it."
"Heard? How could you have heard?" Jack's eyes, stern with accusation, were
now upon her.
It was impossible for Imogen to lie consciously, and though she had not,
in her eagerness that he should own her right and share her reprobation,
foreseen this confrontation, she held, before it, all the dignity of full
"You are changed, indeed, Jack, when you can suspect me of eavesdropping! I
was asleep on the sofa in the library, worn out with work, and I woke to
hear them talking in the next room, with the door ajar. I did not realize,
for some moments, what was being said. And then they went out."
"Of course I don't suspect you; of course I don't think that you would
eavesdrop; though I do hate--hearing," Jack muttered.
"I hope you realize that I share your hatred," said Imogen. "But your
opinion of me is not, here, to the point. I only wish to put before you
what I have now to bear, Mrs. Pakenham said that she wagered that before
the year was out Sir Basil would have married mama." Imogen paused,
Jack walked on beside her, not knowing what to say. "I think so, too, and
wish her joy," would have been the truest rendering of his feeling.
He curbed it to ask cautiously, "And you mind so much?"
"Mind!" she repeated, a thunderous echo.
"You dislike it so?"
"Dislike? You use strangely inapt words."
He had another parenthetic shoot of impatience with her dreadful
articulateness; had Imogen always talked so much like the heroine of a
novel with a purpose?
"I only meant--can't you put up with it?"
"Put up with it? Can I do anything else? What power have I over her?
You don't seem to understand. I have passed beyond caring that she
makes herself petty, ridiculous; as a woman of her age must in marrying
again--the clutch of fading life at the happiness it has forfeited. Let
her clutch if she chooses; let her marry if she chooses, whom she chooses,
yes, when she chooses. But don't you see how it shatters my every hope of
her,--my every ideal of her? And don't you see how my heart is pierced by
the presence of that man in my father's house, the house that she abandoned
and cast a shadow upon? How filled with bitter shame and anguish I am when
I see him there, in that house, sacred to my grief and to my
memories--making love to my mother?"
No, really, never, never had he heard Imogen so fluent and so dramatically
telling; and never had he been so unmoved by the feeling under the fluency.
It was as if he could believe in none.
He remained silent and Imogen continued: "When she came back, I believed
that it was with an impulse of penitence; with the wish, shallow though I
knew that it must be in such a nature, to atone to me for the ruin that she
had made in his life. I was all tenderness and sympathy for her, all a
longing to help and sustain her--as you must remember. But now! It fulfils
all that I had feared and suspected in her--and more than all! She left
England, she came here, that the conventions might be observed; and,
considering them observed enough for her purpose, she receives her suitor,
eight months after my father's lonely death,-in the house where _my_ heart
breaks and bleeds for him, where _I_ mourn for him, where _I_--alone, it
seems--feel him flouted and betrayed! And she talks of her love for me!"
Jack was wondering that her coherent passion did not beat him into helpless
acquiescence; but, instead, he found himself at once replying, "You don't
see fairly. You exaggerate it all. She was unhappy with your father. For
years he made her unhappy. And now, if she can care for a man who can make
her happy, she has a right, a perfect right, to take her happiness. As for
her loving you, I don't believe that any one loves you more truly. It's
your chance, now, to show your love for her."
Imogen stood still and looked at him from the black disk of her parasol.
"I think I've suspected this of you, too, Jack," she said. "Yes, I've
suspected, in dreadful moments of revelation, how far your undermining has
gone. And you say you are not changed!"
"Would you ask your mother never to marry again?"
"I would--if she were in any way to redeem her image in my eyes. But,
granting to the full that one must make concessions to such creatures of
the senses, I would ask her, at the very least, to have waited."
"Creatures of the senses!" Jack repeated in a helpless gasp; such words, in
their austere vocabulary, were hardly credible. "Do you know what you are
saying, you arrogant, you heartless girl?"
Her face seemed to flash at him like lightning from a black cloud, and with
the lightning a reality that had lacked before to leap to her voice:
"Ah! At last--at last you are saying what you have felt for a long time!
At last I know what you think of me! So be it! I don't retract one jot or
tittle of what I say. Mama is a perfectly moral woman, if you actually
imagine some base imputation; but she lives for the pleasant, the pretty,
the easy. She doesn't love this man's soul--nor care if he has one.
Her love for him is a parody of the love that my father taught me to
understand and to hold sacred. She loves his love for her; his 'delightful'
appearance. She loves his place and name and all the power and leisure of
the life he can give her. She loves the world--in him; and in that I mean
and repeat that she is a creature of the senses. And if, for this, you
think me arrogant and heartless, you do not trouble in one whit my vision
of myself, but you do, forever, mar my vision of you."
They stood face to face in the soft sweet air under an arch of wistaria; it
seemed a place to plight a troth, not to break one; but Jack knew that, if
he would, he could not have kept the truth from her. It held him, looked
from him; he was, at last, inevitably, to speak it.
"Imogen," he said, "I don't want to talk to you about your mother; I don't
want to defend her to you; I'm past that. I'll say nothing of your summing
up of her character,--it's grotesque, it's piteous, such assurance! But
I do tell you straight what I've come to feel of you--that you are a
cold-blooded, self-righteous, self-centered girl. And I'll say more: I
think that your bringing-up, the artificiality, the complacent theory of
it, is your best excuse; and I think that you'll never find any one so
generous and so understanding of you as your mother. If this mars me in
your eyes, I can't help it."
For a moment, in her deep anger,--horror running through it, too, as though
the very bottom had dropped out of things and she saw emptiness beneath
her,--she thought that she would tell him to leave her there, forever. But
Imogen's intelligence was at times a fairly efficacious substitute for
deeper promptings; and humiliation, instead of enwrapping her mind in a
flare of passionate vanity, seemed, when such intellectual apprehension
accompanied it, to clarify, to steady her thoughts. She saw, now, in the
sudden uncanny illumination, that in all her vehemence of this afternoon
there had been something fictitious. The sorrow, the resentment on her
father's account, she had, indeed, long felt; too long to feel keenly.
Her disapproval of the second marriage was already tinctured by a certain
satisfaction; it would free her of a thorn in the flesh, for such her
mother's presence in her life had become, and it would justify forever her
sense of superiority. It was all the clearest cause for indignation that
her mother had given her, and, seeing it as such, she had longed to make
Jack share her secure reprobation; but she hadn't, really, been able to