Part 4 out of 6
feel it as she saw it. It solved too many problems and salved too many
hurts. So now, standing there under the arch of wistaria, she saw through
herself; saw, at the very basis of her impulse, the dislocation that
had made its demonstration dramatic and unconvincing. Dreadful as the
humiliation was, her lips growing parched, her throat hot and dry with it,
her intelligence saw its cause too clearly for her to resent it as she
would have resented one less justified. There was, perhaps, something to
be said for Jack, disastrously wrong though he was; and, with all her
essential Tightness, there was, perhaps, something to be said against her.
She could not break, without further reflection, the threads that still
held them together.
So, at the moment of their deepest hostility, Jack was to have his sweetest
impression of her. She didn't order him away in tragic tones, as he almost
expected; she didn't overwhelm him with an icy torrent of reproach and
argument. Instead, as she stood there against her halo of black, the long
regard of her white face fixed on him, her eyes suddenly filled with tears.
She didn't acquiesce for a moment, or, for a moment, imply him anything but
miserably, pitiably wrong; but in a voice from which every trace of anger
had faded she said: "Oh Jack, how you hurt me!"
The shock of his surprise was so great that his cheeks flamed as though she
had struck him. Answering tears sprang to his eyes. He stammered, could not
speak at first, then got out: "Forgive me. I'd no business to say it. It's
lovely of you, Imogen, not just to send me off."
She felt her triumph, her half-triumph, at once. "Why, Jack, if you think
it, why should I forgive you for saying what, to you, seems the truth? You
have forgotten me, Jack, almost altogether; but don't forget that truth is
the thing that I care most for. If you must think these things of me--and
not only of me, of a dearer self, for I understand all that you meant--I
must accept the sorrow and pain of it. When we care for people we must
accept suffering because of them. Perhaps, in time, you may come to see
He knew, though she made him feel so abashed, that he could take back none
of the "things" he thought; but as she had smiled faintly at him he
answered with a wavering smile, putting out his hand to hers and holding it
while he said: "Shall we agree, then, to say nothing more about it! To be
as good friends--as the truth will let us?"
He had never hurt her as at that moment of gentleness, compunction, and
inflexibility, and thought, for a moment, was obscured by a rush of bitter
pain that could almost have cast her upon his breast, weeping and suppliant
for all that his words shut the door on--perhaps forever.
But such impulses were swiftly mastered in poor Imogen. Gravely pressing
his hand, she accepted the cutting compact, and, over her breathless sense
of loss, held firm to the spiritual advantage of magnanimity and courage.
He judged himself, not her, in letting her go, if he was really letting
her go; and she must see him wander away into the darkness, alone, leaving
her alone. It was tragic; it was nearly unendurable; but this was one of
life's hard lessons; her father had so often told her that they must be
unflinchingly faced, unflinchingly conquered. So she triumphed over the
weak crying out of human need.
They walked on slowly again, both feeling a little "done." Neither spoke
until, at the entrance of the park, and just before leaving its poetry for
the screaming prose of the great city, Imogen said: "One thing I want to
tell you, Jack, and that is that you may trust mama to me. Whatever I may
think of this happiness that she is reaching out for, I shall not make it
difficult or painful for her to take it. My pain shall cast no shadow on
Jack's face still showed its flush and his voice had all the steadiness of
his own interpretation, the steadiness of his refusal to accept hers, as he
answered, "Thanks, Imogen; that's very right of you."
Imogen and Sir Basil were walking down a woodland path under the sky of
American summer, a vast, high, cloudless dome of blue. Trees, tall and
delicate, in early June foliage, grew closely on the hillside; the grass of
the open glades was thick with wild Solomon's-seal, and fragile clusters of
wild columbine grew in the niches and crannies of the rocks, their pale-red
chalices filled with fantastically fretted gold.
Imogen, dressed in thin black lawn, fine plaitings of white at throat and
wrists, her golden head uncovered, walked a little before Sir Basil with
her long, light, deliberate step. She had an errand in the village two
miles away, and her mother had suggested that Sir Basil should go with her
and have some first impressions of rural New England. He had only arrived
the night before. Miss Bocock and the Pottses were expected this afternoon,
and Mrs. Wake had been for a fortnight established in her tiny cottage on
the opposite hillside.
"Tell me about your village here," Sir Basil had said, and Imogen, with
punctual courtesy and kindness, the carrying out of her promise to Jack,
had rejoined: "It would be rather uneventful annals that I should have to
tell you. The people are palely prosperous. They lead monotonous lives.
They look forward for variety and interest, I think, to the summer, when
all of us are here. One does all one can, then, to make some color for
them. I have organized a kindergarten for the tiny children, and a girls'
club for debates and reading; it will help to an awakening I believe. I'm
going to the club this afternoon. I'm very grateful to my girls for helping
me as they do to be of use to them. It's quite wonderful what they have
done already. Our village life is in no sense like yours in England, you
know; these people are all very proud and independent. It's as a friend,
not as a Lady Bountiful, that I go among them."
"I see," said Sir Basil, with interest, "that's awfully nice all round.
I wish we could get rid of a lot of stupid ways of thought at home. I'll
see something of these friends of yours at the house, then. I'm immensely
interested in all these differences, you know."
"You won't see them at the house. Our relation is friendly, not social.
That is a froth that doesn't count."
"Oh! and they don't mind that--not having the social relation, I mean--if
they are friends?"
"Why should they? I am not hurt because they do not ask me to their picnics
and parties, nor are they because I don't ask them to my dinners and teas.
We both understand that all that is a matter of manner and accident; that
in essentials we are equal."
"I see; but," Sir Basil still queried, "you wouldn't care about their
parties, I suppose, and don't you think they might like your dinners? At
least that's the way it would work out, I'm afraid, at home."
"Ah, it doesn't here. They are too civilized for that. Neither of us would
feel fitted to the superficial aspects of the others' lives."
"We have that sort of thing in England, too, you know; only perhaps we
look at it more from the other side, and recognize difference rather than
"Very much more, I think," said Imogen with a slight smile. "I should
think that there was very little resemblance. Your social structure is
a wholesome, natural growth, embodying ideals that, in the main, are
unconscious. We started from that and have been building ever since toward
"Well,"--Sir Basil passed over this simile, a little perplexed,--"it's very
wonderful that they shouldn't feel--inferior, you know, in our ugly sense
of the word, if they only get one side of friendship and not the other. Now
that's how we manage in England, you see; but then I'm afraid it doesn't
work out as you say it does here; I'm afraid they do feel inferior, after a
"Only the truly inferior could feel inferiority, since they get the real
side of friendship," said Imogen, with gentle authority. "And I can't think
that, in our sense of the word, the real side is given with you. There is
conscious condescension, conscious adaptation to a standard supposed
"I see; I see"; Sir Basil murmured, looking, while still perplexed, rather
conscience-stricken; "yes, I suppose you're right."
Imogen looked as though she more than supposed it, and, feeling himself
quite worsted, Sir Basil went on to ask her further questions about the
club and kindergarten.
"What a lot of work it must all mean for you," he said.
"That, I think, is one's only right to the advantages one has--education,
taste, inherited traditions," said Imogen, willing to enlighten this
charmingly civilized, yet spiritually barbarous, interlocutor who followed
her, tall, in his delightfully outdoor-looking garments, his tie and the
tilt of his Panama hat answering her nicest sense of fitness, and his
handsome brown face, quizzical, yet very attentive, meeting her eyes on
its leafy background whenever she turned her head. "If they are not made
instruments to use for others they rust in our hands and poison us," she
said. "That's the only real significance of an aristocracy, a class fitted
to serve, with the highest service, the needs of all. Of course, much of
our best and deepest thought about these things is English; don't imagine
me ungrateful to the noble thinkers of your--of my--race,--they have
moulded and inspired us; but, there is the strange paradox of your
civilization, your thought reacts so little on your life. Your idealists
and seers count only for your culture, and even in your culture affect so
little the automatic existence of your people. They form a little isolated
class, a leaven that lies outside the lump. Now, with us, thought rises,
works, ferments through every section of our common life."
Quite without fire, almost indolently, she spoke; very simply, too,
glancing round at him, as though she could not expect much understanding
from such an alien listener.
"I'm awfully glad, you know, to get you to talk to me like this," said Sir
Basil, after a meditative pause; "I saw a good bit of you in New York, but
you never talked much with me."
"You had mama to talk to."
"But I want to talk to you, too. You do a lot of thinking, I can see that."
"I try to"; she smiled a little at his _naivete_.
"Your mother told me so much about you that I'm tremendously eager to know
you for myself."
"Well, I hope that you may come to, for mama's pictures of me are not
likely to be accurate," said Imogen mildly. "We don't think in the same way
or see things in the same way and, though we are so fond of each other, we
are not interested in the same things. Perhaps that is why I don't interest
her particular friends. They would not find much in common between mama and
me"; but her smile was now a little humorous and she was quite prepared for
his "Oh, but, I assure you, I am interested in you."
Already, with her unerring instinct for power, Imogen knew that Sir Basil
was interested in her. There was only, to be sure, a languid pleasure in
the sense of power over a person already, as it were, so bespoken, so in
bondage to other altars; but, though without a trace of coquetry, the smile
quietly claimed him as a partial, a damaged convert. Imogen always knew
when people were capable of being, as she expressed it to herself, "Hers."
She made small effort for those who were without the capacity. She never
misdirected such smiles upon Rose, or Miss Bocock, or Mrs. Wake. And now,
as Sir Basil went on to asseverate, just behind her shoulder, his pleasant
tones quite touched with eagerness, that the more he saw of her the more
interested he became, she allowed him to draw her into a playful argument
on the subject.
"Yes, I quite believe that you would like me--if you came to know me"--she
was willing to concede at last; "but, no, indeed no, I don't think that you
would ever feel much interest in me."
"You mean because I'm not sufficiently interesting myself? Is that it, eh?"
Sir Basil acutely asked, reflecting that he had never seen a girl walk so
beautifully or dress so exquisitely. The sunlight glittered in her hair.
"I don't mean that at all," said Imogen; "although I don't fancy that you
are interested so deeply, and in so many things, as I am."
"Now, really! Why not? You haven't given me a chance to show you. Of course
I'm not clever."
"I meant nothing petty, like cleverness."
"You mean that I don't take life seriously enough to please you?"
"Not that, exactly. It's that we face in opposite directions, as it were.
Life isn't to you what it is to me, it isn't to you such a big, beautiful
thing, with so many wonderful vistas in it--such far, high peaks."
She was very grave now, and the gravity, the assurance, and, with them, the
sweetness, of this young girl were charming and perplexing to Sir Basil.
Girls so assured he had found harsh, disagreeable and, almost always, ugly;
they had been the sort of girl one avoided. And girls so lovely had usually
been coy and foolish. This girl walked like a queen, looked at one like a
philosopher, smiled at one like an angel. He fixed his mind on her last
words, rallying his sense of quizzical paternity to meet such disconcerting
"Well, but you are very young; life looks like that--peaks, you know, and
vistas, and all the rest--when one is young. You've not had time to find it
out, to be disappointed," said Sir Basil.
Imogen's calm eye rested upon him, and even before she spoke he knew that
he had made a very false step. It was as if, sunken to the knees in his
foolish bog, he stood before her while she replied:
"Ah, it's that that is shallow in you, or, let us say, undeveloped, still
to be able to think of life in those terms. They are the thoughts of an
unawakened person, and some people, I know, go all through life without
awaking. You imagine, I suppose, that I think of life as something that
is going to give me happiness, to fulfil sentimental, girlish dreams. You
are mistaken. I have known bitter disappointments, bitter losses, bitter
shatterings of hope. But life is wonderful and beautiful to me because
we can be our best and do our best in it, and for it, if we try. It's an
immense adventure of the soul, an adventure that can disappoint only in the
frivolous sense you were thinking of. Such joys are not the objects of our
quest. One is disappointed with oneself, often, for falling so short of
one's vision, and people whom we love and trust may fail us and give us
piercing pain; but life, in all its oneness, is good and beautiful if we
wake to its deepest reality and give our hearts to the highest that we
She spoke sadly, softly, surely, thinking of her own deep wounds, and to
speak such words was almost like repeating a familiar lesson,--how often
she had heard them on her father's lips,--and Sir Basil listened, while he
looked at the golden head, at the white hand stretched out now and then to
put aside a branch or sapling--listened with an amazement half baffled and
wholly admiring. He had never heard a girl talk like that. He had heard
such words before, often, of course, but they had never sounded like this;
they seemed fresh, and sparkling with a heavenly dew, spoken so quietly,
with such indifference to their effect, such calmness of conviction. The
first impression of her, that always hovered near, grew more strongly upon
him. There was something heavenly about this girl. It was as though he had
heard an angel singing in the woods, and a feeling of humility stole over
him. It was usual for Sir Basil, who rarely thought about himself, to feel
modest, but very unusual for him to feel humble.
"You make me believe it, when you say it," he murmured. "I'm afraid you
think me a dreadfully earthy, commonplace person."
Imogen, at the change of note in his voice, looked round at him, more
really aware of him than she had been at all, and when she met his glance
the prophet's calm fervor rose in her to answer the faith that she felt in
him. She paused, letting him come abreast of her in the narrow path, and
they both stood still, looking at each other.
"You are not earthy; you are not commonplace," said Imogen, then, as a
result of her contemplation. "I believe that you are a very big person, Sir
"A big person? How do you mean?" He absolutely flushed, half abashed, half
Imogen continued to gaze, clearly and deeply. "There are all sorts of
possibilities in you."
"Oh, come now! At my age! Why, any possibilities are over, except for a
cheerful kind of vegetating."
"You have vegetated all your life, I can see that. No one has ever waked
you. You have hardly _used_ your soul at all. It's with you as it is with
your country, whose life is built strongly and sanely with body and brain
but who has not felt nationally, as a whole, its spirit. Like it, you have
a spirit; like it, you are full of possibilities."
"Miss Upton, you aren't like anybody I've ever known. What sort of
She walked on now, feeling his thrill echo in herself, symptomatic of the
passing forth of power and its return as enrichment of life and inspiration
to helpfulness. "Of service," she said. "Of devotion to great needs;
courage in great causes. I don't think that you have ever had a chance."
Sir Basil, keeping his eyes on her straight, pale profile, groping and
confused in this new flood of light, wondered if he had.
"You are an extraordinary young woman," he said at last. "You make me
believe in everything you say, though it's so awfully queer, you know, to
think in that way about myself. If you talk to me often like this, about
needs and causes, will it give me more of a chance, do you think?"
"We must all win to the light for ourselves," said Imogen very gently, "but
we can help one another."
They had come now to the edge of the wood and out upon the white road that
curved from the village up to the blue of the hills they had descended. A
tiny brook ran with a sharp, silvery tinkle on its farther edge and it was
bordered by a light barrier of white railing. Beyond were spacious,
half-cultivated meadows, stretched out for miles in the lap of low-lying
Serene yet inhuman the landscape looked, a background to the thinnest of
histories, significant only of its own dreaming solitude; and the village,
among its elms, a little farther on, suggested the barest past, the most
barren future. The road led on into its main street, where the elms made
a stately avenue, arching over scattered frame houses of buff and gray
and white. Imogen told Sir Basil that some of these houses were old, and
pointed out an austere classic facade with pediment and pillars; explained
to him, too, the pathetic condition of so much of abandoned New England.
Sir Basil was thinking more of her last words in the woods than of local
color, but he had, while he listened, a fairly definite impression of
pinchbeck shops; of shabby awnings slanting in the sunlight over heaps of
tumbled fruit and vegetables; of "buggies," slip-shod, with dust-whitened
wheels, the long-tailed, long-maned, slightly harnessed horses hitched to
posts along the pavements. The faces that passed were indolent yet eager.
The jaws of many worked mechanically at some unappeasing task of
Sir Basil had traveled since his arrival in America, had seen the luxuries
of the Atlantic seacoast, the purposeful energy of Chicago, California's
Eden-like abundance, and had seen other New England villages where beauty
was cherished and made permanent. He hardly needed Imogen's further
comments to establish his sense of contrast.
"This was always a poor enough little place. Any people who made it count
left it long ago. But even here," she went on, "even in its stagnation, one
can find some of the things we care for in our country, some of the things
we live for."
Some of these things seemed personified in the figure of the young woman
who met them in the girls' club, among the shelves of books and the
numerous framed photographs from the old masters. Imogen introduced
Sir Basil to her and he watched her with interest while she and Imogen
discussed some business matters. She was slender and upright, perhaps too
upright; she was, in manner, unaffected and assured, perhaps too assured,
but that Sir Basil did not observe. He found her voice unpleasant and her
pronunciation faulty, but thought that she expressed herself with great
force and fluency. Her eyes were bright, her skin sallow, she smiled
gravely, and her calmness and her smile reminded Sir Basil a little of
Imogen; perhaps they were racial. She was dressed in a simple gray cotton
frock with neat lawn collar and cuffs, and her hair was raised in a
lustrous "pompadour," a wide comb traversing it behind and combs at the
sides of her head upholding it in front. Toward Sir Basil she behaved with
gracious stateliness of demeanor, so that he wondered anew at the anomalies
of a country of ideals where a young person so well-appearing should not be
asked to dinner.
Several other girls came in while they were there, and they all surrounded
Imogen with eager familiarity of manner; all displayed toward himself, as
he was introduced, variations of Miss Hickson's stateliness. He thought
it most delightful and interesting and the young women very remarkable
persons. One discordant note, only, was struck in the harmony, and
that discord was barely discerned by his untrained ear. While Imogen
was talking, a girl appeared in the doorway, hesitated, then, with an
indifferent and forbidding manner, strolled across the room to the
book-shelves, where she selected a book, strolling out again with the
barest nod of sullen recognition. She was a swarthy girl, robust and ample
of form, with black eyes and dusky cheeks. Her torn red blouse and untidy
hair marked her out from the sleek and social group. Sir Basil thought her
very interesting looking. He asked Imogen, as they walked away under the
elms, who she was. "That artistic young person, with the dark hair."
"Artistic? Do you mean Mattie Smith?--the girl with the bad manners?" asked
Imogen, smiling tolerantly.
"Yes, she looked like a clever young person. She belongs to the club?"
"She hardly counts as one of its members, though we welcome everyone, and,
like all the girls of the village, she enjoys the use of our library. She
is not clever, however. She is an envious and a rather ill-tempered girl,
with very little of the spirit of sisterhood in her. And she nurses her
defect of isolation and self-sufficiency. I hope that we may win her over
to wider, sweeter outlooks some day."
Mattie Smith, however, was one of the people upon whom Imogen wasted no
smiles. On the Uptons first coming to spend their summers near Hamborough,
Imogen had found this indolent yet forcible personality barring her path
of benignant activity. Mattie Smith, unaided, undirected, ignorant of the
Time Spirit's high demands upon the individual, had already formed a club
of sorts, a tawdry little room hung with bright bunting and adorned with
colored pictures from the cheaper magazines, pictures of over-elegant,
amorously inclined young couples in ball-rooms or on yachts and beaches.
Here the girls read poor literature, played games, made candy over the
stove and gossiped about their young men. Imogen deeply disapproved of the
place; its ventilation was atrocious and its moral influence harmful; it
relaxed and did not discipline,--so she had expressed it to her father. It
soon withered under her rival beams. Mattie Smith's members drifted by
degrees into the more advantageous alliance. Mattie Smith had resented this
triumphant placing of the higher standard and took pains, as Imogen, with
the calm displeasure of the successful, observed, to make difficulties
for her and to treat her with ostentatious disregard. Imogen guessed very
accurately at the seething of anger and jealousy that bubbled in Mattie
Smith's breast; it was typical of so much of the lamentable spirit
displayed by rudimentary natures when feeling the pressure of an ideal they
did not share or when brought into contact with a more finished manner of
life from which they were excluded. Imogen, too, could not have borne a
rival ascendancy; but she was ascendant through right divine, and, while so
acutely understanding Mattie Smith's state of mind, she could not recognize
a certain sameness of nature. She hoped that Mattie Smith would "grow," but
she felt that, essentially, she was not of the sort from which "hers" were
It was almost four o'clock by the time that Imogen and Sir Basil reached
the summit of one of the lower hills, and, among the trees, came upon the
white glimmer of the Upton's summer home. It stood in a wide clearing
surrounded on three sides by the woods, the higher ranges rising about it,
its lawn running down to slopes of long grass, thick with tall daisies
and buttercups. Farther on was an orchard, and then, beyond the dip of a
valley, the blue, undulating distance, bathed in a crystalline quivering.
The house, of rough white stucco, had lintels and window-frames of dark
wood, a roof of gray shingles, and bright green shutters. A wide veranda
ran around it, wreathed in vines and creepers, and borders of flowers
grew to the edges of the woods. Sir Basil thought that he had never seen
anything prettier. Valerie, dressed in thin black, was sitting on the
veranda, and beside her Miss Bocock, still in traveling dress, looked
incongruously ungraceful. She had arrived an hour before with the Pottses,
who had gone to their rooms, and said, in answer to Imogen's kindly
queries, that the journey hadn't been bad, though the train was very
stuffy. Then it appeared that Miss Bocock and Sir Basil were acquainted;
they recollected each other, shook hands heartily, and asked and answered
local questions. Miss Bocock's people lived not so many miles from Thremdon
Hall, and, though she had been little at home of late years, she and Sir
Basil had country memories in common. She said presently that she, too,
would like to tidy for the tea, and Imogen, taking her to her room, sat
with her while she smoothed out one section of her hair and tonged the
other, and while she put on a very stiff holland skirt and a blouse
distressing to Imogen's sensitive taste, a crude pink blouse, irrelevantly
adorned about the shoulders with a deep frill of imitation lace. While she
dressed she talked, in her high-pitched, cheerful voice, of the recent very
successful lectures she had given in Boston and the acquaintances she had
"I hope that my letters of introduction proved useful," said Imogen. She
considered Miss Bocock her _protegee_, but Miss Bocock, very vexatiously,
seemed always oblivious of that fact; so that Imogen, though feeling that
she had secured a guest who conferred luster, couldn't resist, now and
then, trying to bring her to a slightly clearer sense of obligation.
Miss Bocock said that, yes, they had been very useful, and Imogen watched
her select from the graceful nosegay on her dressing-table two red roses
which she pinned to her pink blouse with a heavy silver brooch
representing, in an encircling bough, a mother bird hovering with
outstretched wings over a precariously placed nest.
"Let me get you a white rose," Imogen suggested; but Miss Bocock said, no,
thanks, she was very fond of that shade of red.
"So you know Sir Basil," said Imogen, repressing her sense of irritation.
"Know him? Yes, of course. Everybody in the county knows him. He is the big
man thereabouts, you see. The old squire, his father, was very fond of my
father, and we go to a garden-party at the hall once a year or so. It's a
nice old place."
Imogen felt some perplexity. "But if your father and his were such friends
why don't you see more of each other?"
Miss Bocock looked cheerfully at her. "Why, because he is big and we
aren't. We are middle-class and he very much upper; it's a very old family,
the Thremdons,--I forget for how many generations they have been in Surrey.
Now my dear old dad was only a country doctor," Miss Bocock went on, seated
in a rocking-chair--she liked rocking-chairs--with her knees crossed, her
horribly shaped patent-leather shoes displayed and her clear eyes, through
their glasses, fixed on Imogen while she made these unshrinking statements;
"and a country doctor's family hasn't much to do with county people."
"What an ugly thing," said Imogen, while, swiftly, her mind adjusted itself
to this new seeing of Miss Bocock. By its illumination Miss Bocock's
assurance toward herself grew more irritating than before, and the fact
that Miss Bocock's flavor was very different from Sir Basil's became
"Not at all," said Miss Bocock. "It's a natural crystallization. You are
working toward the same sort of thing over here--only not in such a
wholesome way, I think."
Imogen flushed a little. "Our crystallizations, when they aren't
artificially brought about by apings of your civilization, take place
through real superiority and fitness. A woman of your intellectual ability
is anybody's equal in America."
"Oh, as far as that goes, in that sense, I'm anybody's equal in England,
too," said Miss Bocock, unperturbed and unimpressed.
Imogen rather wished she could make her feel that, since crystallizations
were a fact, the Uptons, in that sense, were as much above her as the
Thremdons. Idealist democrat as she counted herself, she had these quick
glances at a standard kept, as it were, for private use; as if, from under
an altar in the temple of humanity, its priest were to draw out for some
personal reassurance a hidden yard-measure.
Tea, when they went down again, was served on the veranda and Imogen could
observe, during its progress, that Miss Bocock showed none of the
disposition to fawn on Sir Basil that one might have expected from a person
of the middle-class. She contradicted him as cheerfully as she did Imogen
Mr. and Mrs. Potts had gone for a little ramble in the lower woods,
but they soon appeared, Mr. Potts seating himself limply on the steps
and fanning himself with his broad straw hat--a hat that in its very
largeness and looseness seemed to express the inflexible ideals of
non-conformity--while Mrs. Potts, very firmly busked and bridled, her head
very sleek, her smile very tight, took a chair between Mrs. Upton and Sir
Basil, and soon showed, in her whole demeanor, a consciousness of the
latter's small titular decoration that placed her more definitely for
Imogen's eye than she had ever been placed before. The Pottses were
middle-class with a vengeance. Imogen's irritation grew as she watched
these limpet-like friends, one sprawling and ill-at-ease for all his
careful languor, the other quite dreadfully well-mannered, sipping her
tea, arching her brows and assuming all sorts of perilous elegancies of
pronunciation that Imogen had never before heard her attempt. It was an
additional vexation to have them display toward herself, with even more
exaggeration than usual, their tenacious tenderness; listening, with a
grave turning of head and eye when she spoke, and receiving each remark
with an over-emphasis of feeling on their over-mobile features.
There was, indeed, an odd irony in the Pottses being there at all. They
had, in her father's lifetime, only been asked with a horde of their kind,
the whole uplifted batch thus worked off together, and Imogen had really
not expected her mother to agree to her suggestion that they should be
invited to pay the annual visit during Sir Basil's stay. She would not own
to herself that her suggestion had been made from a vague wish to put her
mother to a test, to force her into a definite declaration against the
incongruous guests; she had thought of the suggestion, rather, as an
upholding of her father's banner before the oncoming betrayal; but, instead
of refusal, she had met with an instant, happy acquiescence, and it was now
surely the climax of irony to see how her mother, for her sake, bore with
them. More than for her sake, perhaps. Imogen detected in those seemingly
indolent, yet so observant, eyes a keen reading of the Pottses' perturbed
condition, and in her manner, so easy and so apt, the sweetest, lightest
kindness. She turned corners and drew veils for them, spread a warm haze
of interest and serenity about their clumsy and obtruding personalities.
Imogen could even see that the Pottses were reconsidering, with some
confusion of mind, their old verdict on her mother.
This realization brought to her brooding thoughts a sudden pang of
self-reproach. It wouldn't do for the Pottses to find in her mother the
cordiality they might miss in herself. She confessed that, for a moment,
she had allowed the banner to trail in the dust of worldly thoughts, the
banner to which the Pottses, poor dears, had rallied for so many loyal
years. She summoned once more all her funds of spiritual appreciation and
patience. As for Miss Bocock, she made not the slightest attempt to talk
to the Pottses. She had come up with them from the station,--they had not
found each other on the train,--and she had probably had her fill of them
in that time. Once or twice, in the act of helping herself plentifully to
cake, she paused to listen to them, and after that looked away, over their
heads or through them, as if she finally dismissed them from the field of
her attention. Mrs. Potts was questioning Sir Basil about his possible
knowledge of her own English ancestry. "We came over in the _Mayflower_,
you know," she said.
"Really," said Sir Basil, all courteous interest.
"The Claremonts, you know," said Mrs. Potts, modestly, yet firmly, too. "My
father was in direct descent; we have it all worked out in our family
"Oh, really," said Sir Basil again.
"I've no doubt," said Mrs. Potts, "that your forebears and mine, Sir Basil,
were friends and comrades in the spacious times of good Queen Bess."
Imogen, at this, glanced swiftly at her mother; but she caught no trace of
wavering on that mild countenance.
"Oh, well, no," Sir Basil answered. "My people were very little country
squires in those days; we didn't have much to do with the Dukes of
Claremont. We only began to go up, you see, a good bit after you were on
Imogen fixed a calm but a very cold eye upon Mrs. Potts. She had heard
of the Dukes of Claremont for many years; so had everybody who knew Mrs.
Potts; they were an innocent, an ingrained illusion of the good lady's, but
to-day they seemed less innocent and more irritating than usual. Imogen
felt that she could have boxed Mrs. Potts's silly ears. In Sir Basil's
pleasant disclaimers, too, there was an echo of Miss Bocock's
matter-of-fact acknowledgments that seemed to set them both leagues away
from the Pottses and to make their likeness greater than their difference.
"Well, of course," Mrs. Potts was going on, her _pince-nez_ and all her
small features mingled, as it were, in the vividest glitter, "for me, I
confess, it's blood, above all and beyond all, that counts; and you and I,
Sir Basil, know that it is in the squirearchy that some of the best blood
in England is found. We don't recognize an aristocracy in our country, Sir
Basil, but, though not recognized, it rules,--blood must rule; one often,
in a democracy, feels that as one's problem."
"It's only through service that it rules," Mr. Potts suddenly ejaculated
from where he sat doubled on the steps looking with a gloomy gaze into the
distance. "Service; service--that's our watchword. Lend a hand."
Imogen saw a latent boredom piercing Sir Basil's affability. Great truths
uttered by some lips might be made to seem very unefficacious. She proposed
to him that she should show him the wonderful display of mountain-laurel
that grew higher up among the pine-woods. He rose with alacrity, but Mrs.
Potts rose too. Imogen could hardly control her vexation when, nipping the
crumbs from her lap and smoothing the folds at her waist, she declared that
she was just in the humor for a walk and must see the laurel with them.
"You mustn't tire yourself. Wouldn't you rather stay and have another cup
of tea and talk to me?" Mrs. Upton interposed, so that Imogen felt a dart
of keen gratitude for such comprehension; but Mrs. Potts was not to be
turned aside from her purpose. "Thank you so much, dear Mrs. Upton," she
answered; "we must have many, many talks indeed; but I do want to see my
precious Imogen, and to see the laurel with her. You are one of those rare
beings, darling Imogen, with whom one can _share_ nature. Will you come,
too, Delancy, dear?" she asked her husband, "or will you stay and talk to
Mrs. Upton and Miss Bocock? I'm sure that they will be eager to hear of
this new peace committee of ours and zestful to help on the cause."
Mr. Potts rather sulkily said that he would stay and talk to Mrs. Upton and
Miss Bocock about the committee, and Imogen felt that it was in a manner of
atonement to him for her monopolization of a lustrous past that Mrs. Potts
presently, as they began the steep ascent along a winding, mossy path, told
Sir Basil that her husband, too, knew the responsibility and burden of
"blood." And as, for a moment, they went before her, Imogen fancied that
she heard the murmur of quite a new great name casting its agis about Mr.
Potts. Very spiritual people could, she reflected, become strangely
mendacious when borne along on the wings of ardor and exaltation.
Mrs. Potts's presence was really quite intolerable, and, as she walked
behind her and listened to her murmur, Imogen bethought her of an amusing,
though rather ruthless, plan of elimination. Imogen was very capable of
ruthlessness when circumstances demanded it. Turning, therefore, suddenly
to the right, she led them into a steep and rocky path that, as she well
knew, would eventually prove impassable to Mrs. Potts's short legs and
stiff, fat person. Indeed, Mrs. Potts soon began to pant and sigh. Her
recital of the family annals became disconnected; she paused to take off
and rub her eyeglasses and presently asked, in extenuated tones, if this
were the usual path to the laurel.
"It's the one I always take, dear Mrs. Potts; it's the one I wanted Sir
Basil to see, it's so far the lovelier. One gets the most wonderful, steep
views down into far depths of blue," Imogen, perched like a slender
Valkyrie on the summit of a crag above, thus addressed her perturbed
She couldn't really but be amused by Mrs. Potts's pertinacity, for, not
yet relinquishing her purpose, she continued, in silence now, her lips
compressed, her forehead beaded with moisture, to scale the difficult way,
showing a resolute nimbleness amazing in one so ill-formed for feats of
agility. Sir Basil gave her a succoring hand while Imogen soared ahead,
confident of the moment when Mrs. Potts, perforce, must fall back.
"Tiresome woman!" she thought, but she couldn't help smiling while she
thought it, and heard Mrs. Potts's deep breath laboring up behind her. It
was, perhaps, rather a shame to balk her in this way; but, after all, she
was to have a full fortnight of Sir Basil and she, Imogen, felt that
on this day, the day of a new friendship, Sir Basil's claim on her was
paramount. She had something for him, a light, a strengthening, and she
must keep the hour sacred to that stir of awakening. Among the pines and
laurels she would say a few more words of help to him. So that Mrs. Potts
must be made to go.
The moment came. A shoulder of rock overhung the way and the only passage
was over its almost perpendicular surface. Imogen, as if unconscious of
difficulty, with a stride, a leap, a swift clutch of her firm white hand,
was at the top, smiling down at them and saying: "Now here the view is our
very loveliest. One looks down for miles."
"But--my dear Imogen--is there no other way, round it, perhaps?" Mrs. Potts
looked desperately into the thick underbrush on either side.
"No other way," said Imogen. "But you can manage it. This is only the
beginning,--there's some real climbing farther on. Put your foot where I
did--no, higher--near the little fern--your hand here, look, do you see?
Take a firm hold of that--then a good spring--and here you are."
Poor Mrs. Potts laid a faltering hand on the high ledge that was only a
first stage in the chamois-like feat, and Imogen saw unwilling
relinquishment in her eye.
"I don't see as I can do it," she murmured, relapsing, in her distress,
into a helpless vernacular.
"Oh, yes, this is nothing. Sir Basil will give you a push. I'll pull you
and he will push you," Imogen, with kindest solicitude, suggested.
"Oh, I don't see as I _can_," Mrs. Potts repeated, looking rather wild at
the vision of such a push. She didn't at all lend herself to pushes, and
yet, facing even the indignities of that method, she did, though faltering,
place herself in position; did lay a desperate hold of the high ledge,
place her small, fat, tightly buttoned foot high beside the fern; allow Sir
Basil, with a hand under each armpit, to kindly count "One-two-three--now
for it!"--did even, at the word of command, make a passionate jump, only to
lose hold, scrape lamentably down the surface of the rock, and collapse
into his arms.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" said Imogen, looking down upon them while Sir Basil
placed Mrs. Potts upon her feet, and while Mrs. Potts, angered almost to
tears, rubbed with her handkerchief at the damage done to her dress. "I'm
so _very_ sorry, dear Mrs. Potts. I see that it is a little too steep for
you. And I did so want you to see this view."
"I shall have to go back. I am very tired, quite exhausted," said Mrs.
Potts, in a voice that slightly shook. "I wish you had taken the usual
path. I never dreamed that we were setting out on such a--such a violent
"But this is my usual path," said Imogen, opening her eyes. "I've never
found it hard. And I wanted you and Sir Basil to see my view. But, dear
Mrs. Potts, let me go back with you. Sir Basil won't mind finding his way
alone, I'm sure."
"Oh, no, thanks! No, I couldn't think of spoiling your walk. No, I will go
back," and Mrs. Potts, turning away, began to retrace her steps.
"Be sure and lie down and rest; take a little nap before dinner," Imogen
called after her.
Mrs. Potts disappeared, and Imogen, when she and Sir Basil stood together
on the fortunate obstacle, said: "Poor, excellent creature. I _am_ sorry.
She is displeased with me. I ought to have remembered that this was too
rough for her and taken the other path." Indeed, she had felt rather guilty
as Mrs. Potts's back, the ridge of its high stays strongly marked by the
slanting sunlight, descended among the sylvan scenery.
"Yes, and she did so want to come, awfully keen on it," said Sir Basil;
"but I hope you won't think me very brutal if I confess that _I'm_ not
sorry. I want to talk to you, you see," Sir Basil beamed.
"I would rather talk to you, too," Imogen smiled. "My good old friend can
be very wearisome. But it was thoughtless of me to have brought her on this
They rested for a little while on their rock, looking down into the
distance that was, indeed, worth any amount of climbing. And afterward,
when they reached the fairyland where the laurel drifted through the pine
woods, and as she quoted "Wood-Notes" to him and pointed out to him the
delicate splendors of the polished green, the clear, cold pink, on a
background of gray rock, Imogen could but feel her little naughtiness well
justified. It was delightful to be there in solitude with Sir Basil, and
the sense of sympathy that grew between her and this supplanter of her
father's was strange, but not unsweet. It wasn't only that she could help
him, and that that was always a claim to which one must respond, but she
liked helping him.
On the downward way, a little tired from the rapidity of her ascent, she
often gave her hand to Sir Basil as she leaped from rock to rock, and they
smiled at each other without speaking, already like the best of friends.
That evening, as she was going down to dinner, Imogen met her mother on the
stairs. They spoke little to each other during these days. Imogen felt that
her neutrality of attitude could best be maintained by silence.
"Mrs. Potts came back," her mother said, smiling a little, and, Imogen
fancied, with the old touch of timidity that she remembered in her. "She
said that you took her on a most fearful climb."
"What foolishness, poor dear Mrs. Potts! I took her along the upper path."
"The upper path! Is there an upper path?" Mrs. Upton descended beside her
daughter. "I thought that it was the usual path that had proved too much
"I wanted them to see the view from the rock," said Imogen; "I forgot that
poor Mrs. Potts would find it too difficult a climb."
"Oh, I remember, now, the rock! That is a difficult climb," said Mrs.
Imogen wondered if her mother guessed at why Mrs. Potts had been taken on
it. She must feel it of good augury, if she did, that her daughter should
already like Sir Basil enough to indulge in such an uncharitable freak.
Imogen felt her color rise a little as she suspected herself and her
motives revealed. It was not that she wasn't quite ready to own to a
friendship with Sir Basil; but she didn't want friendship to be confused
with condonation, and she didn't like her mother to guess that she could
use Mrs. Potts uncharitably.
Her magnanimity toward Jack--so Imogen more and more clearly saw it to have
been--at the time of their parting, had made it inevitable that he should
hold to his engagement to visit them that summer, and even because of that
magnanimity, she felt, in thinking over again and again the things that
Jack had said of her and to her, a deepening of the cold indignation that
the magnanimity had quelled at the moment of his speaking them. Mingling
with the sense of snapped and bleeding ties was a longing, irrepressible,
profound, violent, that he might be humiliated, punished, brought to his
knees in penitence and abasement.
Her friendship with Sir Basil, his devotion to her, must be, though by no
means humiliating, something of a coal of fire laid on Jack's traitorous
head; and she saw at once that he was pleased, touched, but perplexed, by
what must seem to him an unforeseen smoothing of her mother's path. He was
there, she guessed, far more to see that her mother's path was made smooth
than to try and straighten out their own twisted and separate ways. He had
come for her mother, not for her; and Imogen did not know whether it was
more pain or anger that the realization gave her.
What puzzled him, what must have puzzled her mother, must puzzle, indeed,
anyone who perceived it,--except, no doubt, the innocent Sir Basil
himself,--was that this friendship took up most of Sir Basil's time.
To Sir Basil she stood for something lofty and exquisite that did not,
of course, clash with more rudimentary, if deeper, affections, but that,
perforce, made them stand aside for the little interlude where it soared
and sang. There was, for Imogen, a sharp sweetness in this fact and in
Jack's bewildered appreciation of it, though for her own consciousness
the triumph was no satisfying one. After all, of what use was it to soar
and sing if Sir Basil were to drop to earth so inevitably and so soon?
Outwardly, at all events, this unforeseen change in the situation gave her
all the advantage in her meeting with Jack. She was not the reproved and
isolated creature that he might have expected to find. She was not the
helpless girl, subjugated by an alien mother and cast off by a faithless
lover. No; calm, benignant, lovely, she had turned to other needs; one was
not helpless while one helped; not small when others looked up to one.
Under her calm was the lament; under her unfaltering smile, the loneliness
and the burning of that bitter indignation; but Jack could not guess at
that, and if both felt difficulty in the neatly balanced friendship pledged
under the wisteria, if there was a breathlessness for both in the
tight-rope performance,--where one false step might topple one over into
open hostility, or else, who knew, into complete surrender,--it was Imogen
who gained composure from Jack's nervousness, and while he walked the rope
with a fluttering breath and an anxious eye she herself could show the most
graceful slides and posturings in midair.
It was evident enough to everybody that the relation was a changed, a
precarious one, but all the seeming danger was Jack's alone.
Imogen, while she swung and balanced, often found her mother's eye fixed
on her with a deep preoccupation, and guessed that it was owing to her
mother's tactics that most of her _tete-a-tetes_ with Jack were due. Her
poor mother might imagine that she thus secured the solid foundation of
the earth for their footsteps, but Imogen knew that never was the rope so
dizzily swung as when she and Jack were thus gently coerced into solitude
It was, however, a few days after Jack's arrival, and a few days before
the Pottses' departure, that an interest came to her of such an absorbing
nature that it wrapped her mind away from the chill or scorching sense
of her own wrongs. It was with the Pottses that the plan originated, and
though the Pottses were proving more trying than they had ever been, they
caught some of the radiance of their own proposal. As instruments in a
great purpose, she could look upon them more patiently, though, more than
ever, it would need tact to prevent them from shadowing the brightness that
they offered. The plan, apparently, had been with them for some time, its
disclosure delayed until the moment suited to its seriousness and sanctity,
and it was then, between the three, mapped out and discussed carefully
before they felt it ripe for further publicity. Then it was Imogen who told
them that the time had come for the unfolding to her mother, and Imogen who
led them, on a sunny afternoon, into her mother's little sitting-room where
she sat writing at her desk.
Jack was there, reading near the window that opened upon the veranda, but
his presence was not one to make the occasion less intimate, and Imogen was
glad of it. It was well that he should be a witness to what she felt to be
a confession of faith, a confession that needed explicit defining, and of a
faith that he and all the others, by common consent, seemed banded together
So, with something of the air of a lovely verger, she led her primed pair
into the room and pointed out two chairs to them.
Valerie, in her thin black draperies, looked pale and jaded. She turned
from her desk, keeping her pen in her hand, and Imogen detected in her eye,
as it rested upon the Pottses, a certain impatience.
Tison, suddenly awakening, broke into passionate barking; he had from the
moment of Mr. Potts's arrival shown toward him a pronounced aversion, and,
backed under the safe refuge of his mistress's chair, his sharp hostility
disturbed the ceremonious entrance.
"Please put the dog out, Jack," said Imogen; "we have a very serious matter
to talk over with mama." But Valerie, stooping, caught him up, keeping a
soothing hand on his still defiant head, while Mr. Potts unfolded the plan
The wonderful purpose, the wonderful project, was that Mr. Potts, aided by
Imogen, should write the life of the late Mr. Upton; and as the curtain was
drawn from before the shrined intention, Imogen saw that her mother flushed
"His name must not be allowed to die from among us, Mrs. Upton. His ideals
must become more widely the ideals of his countrymen." Mr. Potts, crossing
his knees and throwing back his shoulders, wrapped one hand, while he
spoke, in a turn of his flowing beard. "They are in crying need of such a
message, now, when the tides of social materialism and political corruption
are at their height. We may well say, to paraphrase the great poet's
words: 'Upton! thou shouldst be living at this hour; New York hath need of
thee.' And this need is one that it is our duty, and our high privilege,
to satisfy." Mr. Potts's eye, heavy with its responsibility, dwelt on
Valerie's downcast face. "No one, I may say it frankly, Mrs. Upton, is
more fitted than I to satisfy that need and to hand on that message. No
one had more opportunity than I for understanding that radiant personality
in its public aspects. No one can feel more deeply than I that duty and
that privilege. Every American child should know the name of Upton;
every American man and woman should count him among the prophets of his
generation. He did not ask for fame, and we, his followers, ask none for
him. No marble temple, no effulgent light of stained glass;--no. But the
violets and lilies of childhood laid upon his grave; the tearful, yet
joyous whisper of those who come to share his spirit:--'I, too, am of his
race. I, too, can with him strive and with him achieve.'" Mr. Potts's voice
had risen, and Tison, once more, gave a couple of hoarse, smothered barks.
Imogen, though reared on verbal bombast, had found some difficulty in
maintaining her expression of uplifted approbation while Mr. Potts's
rhetoric rolled; her willingness that Mr. Potts should serve the cause did
not blind her to his inadequacy unless kept under the most careful control;
and now, though incensed by Tison's interjection, she felt it as something
of a relief, seizing the opportunity of Mr. Potts's momentary confusion
to suggest, in a gentle and guarded voice:--"You might tell mama now, Mr.
Potts, how we want her to help us."
"I am coming to that, Miss Imogen," said Mr. Potts, with a drop from
sonority to dryness;--"I was approaching that point when the dog
interrupted me"; and Mr. Potts cast a very venomous glance upon Tison.
"Had not the dog better be removed, Mrs. Upton?" Mrs. Potts, under her
breath, murmured, leaning, as if in a pew and above prayer books, forward
in her chair. But Mrs. Upton seemed deaf to the suggestion.
Mr. Potts cleared his throat and resumed somewhat tersely:--"This is our
project, Mrs. Upton, and we have come this afternoon to ask you for your
furtherance of it. You, of course, can provide me and Miss Imogen with
many materials, inaccessible otherwise, for this our work of love. Early
letters, to you;--early photographs;--reminiscences of his younger days,
and so on. Any suggestion as to the form and scope of the book we will be
glad, very glad, to consider."
Valerie had listened without a word or gesture, her pen still held in one
hand, Tison pressed to her by the other, as she sat sideways to the
writing-table. Imogen read in her face a mingled embarrassment and
"I am sure we must all be very grateful to Mr. Potts for this great idea of
his, mama dear," she said. "I thought of it, of course, as soon as papa
died; I knew that we all owed it to him, and to the country that he loved
and served so well; but I did not see my way, and have not seen it till
now. I've so little technical knowledge. But now I shall contribute a
little memoir to the biography and, in any other way, give Mr. Potts all
the aid I can. And we hope that you will, too. Papa's name is one that must
not be allowed to fade."
"I would rather talk of this at some other time, and with Mr. Potts alone,"
Valerie now said, not raising her eyes.
"But mama, this is my work, too. I must be present when it is talked of."
"No, Jack, don't go," said Valerie, looking up at the young man, who had
made a gesture of rising. "You and I, Imogen, will speak of this together,
and I will find an hour, later, when I will be free to talk to Mr. Potts."
"Mama darling," said Imogen, masking her rising anger in patient
playfulness, "you are a lazy, postponing person. You are not a bit busy,
and this is just the time to talk it over with us all. Of course Jack must
stay; we want his advice, too, severe critic as we know him to be. Come,
dear, put down that pen." She bent over her and drew the pen from her hand
while Mr. Potts watched the little scene, old suspicions clouding his
"My time is limited, Mrs. Upton," he observed; "Mrs. Potts and I take our
departure to-morrow and, if I have heard aright, you expect acquaintances
to dinner. Therefore, if you will pardon me, I must ask you to let us have
the benefit, here and now, of your suggestions."
Valerie had not responded by any smile to Imogen's rather baleful
lightness, nor did she, by any penitence of look, respond to Mr. Potts's
urgency. She sat silent for a moment, and when she spoke it was in a
changed voice, dulled, monotonous. "If you insist on my speaking, now--and
openly,--I must say to you that I altogether disapprove of your project.
You will never," said Valerie, with a rising color, "gain my consent to
A heavy silence followed her words, the only sound that of Tison's faint
sniffings, as, his nose outstretched and moving from side to side, he
cautiously savored the air in Mr. Potts's direction. Mrs. Potts stirred
slightly, and uttered a sharp, "Tht--tht." Mr. Potts, his hand still stayed
in his beard, gazed from under the fringed penthouse of his brows with an
arrested, bovine look.
It was Imogen who broke the silence. Standing beside her mother she had
felt the shock of a curious fulfilment go through her, as if she had almost
expected to hear what she now heard. She mastered her voice to ask:--"We
must demand your reasons for this--this very strange attitude, mama."
Her mother did not raise her eyes. "I don't think that your father was a
man of sufficient distinction to justify the publishing of his biography."
At this Mr. Potts breathed a deep, indignant volume of sound, louder than a
sigh, less articulate than a groan, through the forests of his beard.
"Sufficient distinction, Mrs. Upton! Sufficient distinction! You evidently
are quite ignorant of how great was the distinction of your late husband.
Ask us what that distinction was--ask any of his large circle of friends.
It was a distinction not of mind only, nor of birth and breeding--though
that was of the highest that this country has fostered--but it was a
distinction also of soul and spirit. Your husband, Mrs. Upton, fought with
speech and pen the iniquities of his country, the country that, as Miss
Imogen has said, he loved and served. He served, he loved, with mind and
heart and hand. He was the moving spirit in all the great causes of his
day, the vitalizing influence that poured faith and will-power into them.
He founded the cooperative community of Clackville; he organized the
society of the 'Doers' among our young men;--he was a patron of the arts;
talent was fostered, cheered on its way by him;--I can speak personally
of three young friends of mine--noble boys--whom he sent to Paris at his
own expense for the study of music and painting; when the great American
picture is painted, the great American symphony composed, it will be, in
all probability, to your husband that the country will owe the unveiling
of its power. And above all, Mrs. Upton, above all,"--Mr. Potts's voice
dropped to a thunderous solemnity,--"his character, his personality, his
spirit, were as a light shining in darkness to all who had the good fortune
to know him, and that light cannot, shall not, be cribbed, cabined and
confined to a merely private capacity. It is a public possession and
belongs to his country and to his age."
Tison, all unheeded now, had leapt to the floor and, during this address,
had stood directly in front of the speaker, barking furiously until Imogen,
her lips compressed, her forehead flushed, stooped, picked him up, and
flung him out of the room.
Mrs. Upton had sat quite motionless, only lifting her glance now and then
to Mr. Potts's shaking beard and flashing eye. And, after another pause,
in which only Mr. Potts's deep breathing was heard,--and the desperate
scratching at the door of the banished Tison,--she said in somber
tones:--"I think you forget, Mr. Potts, that I was never one of my
husband's appreciators. I am sorry to be forced to recall this fact to your
It had been in all their memories, of course, a vague, hovering
uncertainty, a dark suspicion that one put aside and would not look at. But
to have it now placed before them, and in these cold, these somber tones,
was to receive an icy douche of reality, to be convicted of over-ready
hope, over-generous confidence.
It was Imogen, again, who found words for the indignant deputation: "Is
that lamentable fact any reason why those who do appreciate him should not
share their knowledge with others?"
"I think it is;--I hope so, Imogen," her mother replied, not raising her
eyes to her.
"You tell us that your own ignorance and blindness is to prevent us from
writing my father's life?"
"My opinion of your father's relative insignificance is, I think, a
"Do you quite realize the arrogance of that attitude?"
"I accept all its responsibility, Imogen."
"But _we_ cannot accept it in you," said Imogen, her voice sinking to the
hard quiver of reality that Jack well knew;--"_we_ can't fail in our duty
to him because you have always failed in yours. _We_ are in no way bound to
consider you-who never considered him."
"Imogen," said her mother, raising her eyes with a look of command; "you
forget yourself. Be still."
Imogen's face froze to stone. Such words, such a look, she had never met
before. She stood silent, helpless, rage and despair at her heart.
But Mr. Potts did not lag behind his duty. His hand still wrapped,
Moses-like, in his beard, his eyes bent in holy wrath upon his hostess, he
rose to his feet, and Mrs. Potts, in recounting the scene--one of the most
thrilling of her life--always said that never had she seen Delancy so
superbly _true_, never had she seen blood so _tell_.
"I must say to you, Mrs. Upton, with the deepest pain," he said, "that I
agree with Miss Imogen. I must inform you, Mrs. Upton, that you have no
right, legal or moral, to bind us by your own shortcoming. Miss Imogen and
I may do our duty without your help or consent."
"I have nothing more to say to you, Mr. Potts," Valerie replied. She had,
unseeingly, taken up her pen again and, with a gesture habitual to her, was
drawing squares and crosses on the blotter under her hand. The lines
trembled. The angles of the squares would not meet.
"But I have still something to say to you, Mrs. Upton," said Mr. Potts; "I
have still to say to you that, much as you have shocked and pained us in
the past, you have never so shocked and pained us as now. We had hoped for
better things in you,--wider lights, deeper insights, the unsealing of your
eyes to error and wrong in yourself; we had hoped that sorrow would work
its sacred discipline and that, with your daughter's hand to guide you, you
were preparing to follow, from however far a distance, in the footsteps
of him who is gone. This must count for us, always, as a dark day of
life, when we have seen a human soul turn wilfully from the good held out
to it and choose deliberately the evil. I speak for myself and for Mrs.
Potts--and in sorrow rather than in wrath, Mrs. Upton. I say nothing of
your daughter; I bow my head before that sacred filial grief. I--"
But here, suddenly, quiet, swift, irresistible as a flame, Jack rose from
his place. It seemed one suave, unbroken motion, that by which he laid a
hand on Mr. Potts's shoulder, a hand on Mrs. Potts's shoulder--she had
risen in wonder and alarm at the menacing descent upon her lord--laid a
hand on each, swept them to the door, opened it, swept them out, and shut
the door upon them. Then he turned and leaned upon it, his arms folded.
"Perhaps, Jack, you wish to put me out, too," said Imogen in a voice of ice
and fire. "Your arguments are conclusive. I hope that mama approves her
Valerie now seemed to lean heavily on the table; she rested her forehead on
her hand, covering her eyes.
"Have you anything to say to me, mama, before Jack executes his justice on
me?" Imogen asked.
"Spare me, Imogen," her mother answered.
"Have you spared _me_?" said Imogen. "Have you spared my father? What right
have you to ask for mercy? You are a cruel, a shallow, a selfish woman, and
you break my heart as you broke his. Now Jack, you need not put me out. I
will go of myself."
When Jack had closed the door on her, he still stood leaning against it at
a distance from Valerie. He saw that she wept, bitterly and uncontrollably;
but, at first, awed by her grief, he did not dare approach her. It was only
when the sobs were quieted that he went and stood near her.
"You were right, right," he almost whispered.
She did not answer, and wept on as if there could be no consolation for her
in such rightness.
"It had to come," said Jack; "she had to be made to understand. And--you
She was not thinking of herself. "Oh, Jack Jack," she spoke at last,
putting out her hand to his and grasping it tightly "How I have hurt her.
Poor Imogen;--my poor, poor child."
Imogen hardly knew where she went, or how, when she left her mother--her
mother and Jack--and darted from the house on the wings of a supreme
indignation, a supreme despair. Her sense of fitness was not that of Mr.
Potts, and she knew that her father's biography was doomed. Against her
mother's wish it could not, with any grace, any dignity, be published. Mr.
Potts would put forth appreciation of his departed chief in the small,
grandiloquent review to which he contributed--he had only delayed because
of the greater project--but such a tribute would be a sealing of public
failure rather than the kindling of public recognition. Already her father,
by that larger public, was forgotten--forgotten; Mr. Potts would not make
The word "forgotten" seemed like the beat of dark, tragic wings, bearing
her on and on. The fire of a bitter wrong burned in her. And it was not the
sense of personal wrong--though that was fierce,--that made her flight so
blind and headlong--not her mother's cruelty nor Jack's sinister espousal
of the cause he saw as evil; it was this final, this culminating wrong to
her father. His face rose before her, while she fled, the deep, dark eyes
dwelling with persistence on her as though they asked,--she seemed to hear
the very words and in his very voice:--"What have they done to me, little
daughter? Did I deserve this heaping of dust upon my name;--and from her
For it was that. Dust, the dust of indifferent time, of cold-hearted
oblivion, was drifting over him, hiding his smile, his eyes, his tears.
It seemed to mount, to suffocate her, as she ran, this dust, strewn by
her mother's hand. Even in her own heart she had known the parching of
its drifting fall, known that crouching doubts--not of him, never of
him--but of his greatness, had lurked in ambush since her mother had come
home;--known that the Pottses and their fitness had never before been so
clearly seen for the little that they were since her mother--and all that
her mother had brought--had come into her life. And, before this drifting
of dust upon her faith in her father's greatness, her heart, all that was
deepest in it, broke into a greater trust, a greater love, sobs beneath it.
He was not great, perhaps, as the world counted greatness; but he was good,
good,--he was sorrowful and patient. He loved her as no one had ever loved
her. His ideals were hers and her love was his. Dust might lie on his tomb;
but never, never, in her heart.
"Ah, it's cruel! cruel! cruel!" she panted, as she ran, ran, up the rocky,
woodland path, leaping from ledge to ledge, slipping on the silky moss,
falling now and then on hands and knees, but not pausing or faltering until
she reached the murmuring pine-woods, the grassy, aromatic glades where the
Pallid, disheveled, with tragic, unseeing eyes and parted lips--the
hollowed eyes, the sorrowful lips of a classic mask--she rushed from the
shadows of the mountain--path into this place of sunlight and solitude. A
doomed, distraught Antigone.
And so she looked to Sir Basil, who, his back against a warm rock, a
cigarette in one lazy hand, was outstretched there before her on the moss,
a bush of flowering laurel at his head, and, at his feet, beyond tree-tops,
the steep, far blue of the lower world. He was gazing placidly at this
view, empty of thought and even of conscious appreciation, wrapped in a
balmy contentment, when, with the long, deep breath of a hunted deer,
Imogen leaped from darkness into light, and her face announced such
disaster that, casting aside the cigarette, springing to his feet, he
seized her by the arms, thinking that she might fall before him. And
indeed she would have cast herself face downward on the grass had he not
been there; and she leaned forward on his supporting hands, speechless,
breathing heavily, borne down by the impetus of her headlong run. Then, her
face hidden from him as she leaned, she burst into sobs.
"Miss Upton!--Imogen!--My dear child!--" said Sir Basil, in a crescendo of
distress and solicitude.
She leaned there on his hands weeping so bitterly and so helplessly that he
finished his phrase by putting an arm around her, and so more effectually
supporting her, so satisfying, also, his own desire to comfort and caress
The human touch, the human tenderness--though him she hardly realized--drew
her grief to articulateness. "Oh--my father!--my father!--Oh--what have
they done to you!" she gasped, leaning her forehead against Sir Basil's
"Your father?" Sir Basil repeated soothingly, since this departed
personality seemed a menace that might easily be dealt with, "What is it?
What have they done? How can I help you? My dear child, do treat me as a
friend. Do tell me what is the matter."
"It's mama! mama!--she has broken my heart--as she broke his," sobbed
Imogen, finding her former words. Already, such was the amazing irony of
events, Sir Basil seemed, more than anyone in the world, to take that
dead father's place, to help her in her grief over him. The puzzle of it
inflicted a deeper pang. "I can't tell you," she sobbed. "But I can never,
never forgive her!"
"Forgive your mother?" Sir Basil repeated, shocked. "Don't, I beg of you,
speak so. It's some misunderstanding."
"No!--No!--It is understanding--it is the whole understanding! It has come
out at last--the truth--the dreadful truth."
"But can't you tell me? can't you explain?"
She lifted her face and drew away from him as she said, pressing her
handkerchief to her eyes: "You never knew him. You cannot care for him--no
one who cares, as much as you do, for her,--can ever care for him."
Sir Basil had deeply flushed. He led her to the sunny rock and made her
sit down on a low ledge, where she leaned forward, her face in her hands,
long sighs of exhaustion succeeding her tears. "I know nothing about your
father, as you say, and I do care, very much, for your mother," said Sir
Basil after a little while. "But I care for you, very much, too."
"Ah, but you could never care for me so much as to think her wrong."
"I don't know about that. Why not?--if she is wrong. One often thinks
people one is fond of very wrong. Do you know," and Sir Basil now sat down
beside her, a little lower, on the moss, "do you know you'll make me quite
wretched if you won't have confidence in me. I really can't stand seeing
you suffer and not know what it's about. I don't--I can't feel myself such
a stranger as that. Won't you think of me," he took one of her hands and
held it as he said this, "won't you think of me as, well, as a sort of
affectionate old brother, you know? I want to be trusted, and to see if I
can't help you. Don't be afraid," he added, "of being disloyal--of making
me care less, you know, for your mother, by anything you say; for you
Leaning there, her face hidden, while she half heard him, it struck her
suddenly, a shaft of light in darkness, that, indeed, he might help her.
She dropped her hand to look at him and, with all its tear-stained
disfigurement, he thought that he had never seen anything more heavenly
than that look. It sought, it sounded him, pleaded with and caressed him.
And, with all its solemnity, there dawned in it a tenderness deeper than
any that he had ever seen in her.
"I do trust you," she said. "I think of you as a near, a dear friend. And,
since you promise me that it will change you in nothing, I will tell you. I
believe that perhaps you can help us,--my father and me. You must count me
with him, you know, always. We want to write a life of him, Mr. Potts and
I. Mr. Potts--you may have seen it--is an ordinary person, ordinary but
for one thing, one great and beautiful thing that papa and I always felt
in him,--and that beautiful thing is his depth of unselfish devotion to
great causes and to good people. He worked for my father like a faithful,
loving dog. He had an accurate knowledge of all the activities that papa's
life was given to--all the ideals it aimed at and attained--yes, yes,
attained,--whatever they may say. He has a very skilful pen, and is in
touch with the public press. So, though I would, of course, have wished for
a more adequate biographer, I was glad and proud to accept his offer; and I
would have overlooked, revised, everything. We felt,--and by we, I mean not
only Mr. and Mrs. Potts, but all his many, many friends, all those whose
lives he loved and helped and lifted--that we owed it to the world he
served not to let his name fade from among us. You cannot dream, Sir Basil,
of what sort of man my father was. His life was one long devotion to the
highest things, one long service of the weak and oppressed, one long battle
with the wrong. Those who are incapable of following him to the heights can
give you no true picture of him. I will say nothing, in this respect, of
mama, except that she could not follow him,--and that she made him very,
very unhappy, and with him, me. For I shared all his griefs. She left us;
she laughed at all the things we cared and worked for. My father never
spoke bitterly of her; his last words, almost, were for her, words of
tenderness and pity and forgiveness. He had the capacity that only great
souls have, of love for littler natures. I say this much so that you may
know that any idea that you may have gathered of my father is, perforce, a
garbled, a false one. He was a noble, a wonderful man. Everything I am I
owe to him."
Imogen had straightened herself, the traces of weeping almost gone, her own
fluency, as was usual with her, quieting her emotion, even while her own
and her father's wrongs, thus objectivized in careful phrases, made
indignation at once colder and deeper. Her very effort to quell
indignation, to command her voice to an even justice of tone before this
lover of her mother's, gave it a resonant quality, curiously impressive.
And, as she looked before her, down into the blue profundities, the sense
of her own sincerity seemed to pulse back to her from her silent listener,
and filled her with a growing consciousness of power over him.
"This morning," she took up her theme on that resonant note, deepened to a
tragic pitch, "we went to mama--Mr. Potts and I--to tell her of our project
of commemoration, to ask her cooperation. We wanted to be very generous
with her, to take her help and her sympathy for granted. I should have
felt it an insult to my mother had I told Mr. Potts that we must carry on
our work without consulting her. She received us with cold indifference.
She tried not to listen, when she heard what our errand was. And her
indifference became hostility, when she understood. All her old hatred for
what he was and meant, all her fundamental antagonism to the purpose of his
life--and to him--came at last, openly, to the light. She was forced to
reveal herself. Not only has she no love, no reverence for him, but she
cannot bear that others should learn to love him and to reverence him.
She sneered at his claim to distinction; she refused her consent to our
project. It is a terrible thing for me to say--but I must--and you will
understand me--you who will not care less for her because she is so
wrong--what I feel most of all in her attitude is a childish, yet a cruel,
jealousy. She cannot endure that she should be so put into the dark by the
spreading of his light. The greater his radiance is shown to be, the more
in the wrong will all her life be proved;--it is that that she will not
hear of. She _wants_ him to be obscure, undistinguished, negligible,
because it's that that she has always thought him."
Sir Basil, while she spoke, had kept his eyes fixed on the hand he
held, a beautiful hand, white, curiously narrow, with pointed, upturned
finger-tips. Once or twice a dull color rose to his sunburned cheek, but in
his well-balanced mind was a steady perception of what the filial grief and
pain must be from which certain words came. He could not resent them; it
was inevitable that a child who had so loved her father should so think and
feel. And her self-control, her accurate fluency, answered with him for her
sincerity as emotion could not have done. Passion would never carry this
noble girl into overstatement. Fairness constrained him to admit, while he
listened, that dark color in his cheek, that her view of her father was
more likely to be right than her mother's view. An unhappily married woman
was seldom fair. Mrs. Upton had never mentioned her husband to him, never
alluded to him except in most formal terms; but the facts of her flight
from the marital hearth, the fact that he had made her so unhappy, had been
to him sufficient evidence of Mr. Upton's general unworthiness. Now, though
Imogen's tragic ardor did not communicate any of her faith in her father's
wonder or nobility, it did convince him of past unfairness toward, no
doubt, a most worthy man. Incompatibility, that had been the trouble; he
one of these reformer people, very much in earnest; and Mrs. Upton, dear
and lovely though she was, with not a trace of such enthusiasm in her moral
So, when Imogen had finished, though he sat silent for a little while,
though beneath the steady survey of what she put before him was a stirring
of trouble, it was in a tone of quiet acceptance that he at last said,
looking up at her, "Yes; I quite see what you feel about it. To you, of
course, they must look like that, your mother's reasons. They must look
very differently to her, that goes without saying. We can't really make out
these things, you know, these fundamental antagonisms; I never knew it went
as far as that. But I quite see. Poor child. I'm very sorry. It is most
awfully hard on you."
"Don't think of me!" Imogen breathed out on a note of pain. "It's not of
myself I'm thinking, not of my humiliation and despair--but of him!--of
him!--Is it _right_ that I should submit? _Ought_ a project like ours to be
abandoned for such a reason?"
Again Sir Basil was silent for some moments, considering the narrow white
hands. "Perhaps she'll come round,--think better of it."
"Ah!--" it was now on a note of deep, of tremulous hope that she breathed
it out, looking into his eyes with the profound, searching look so moving
to him; "Ah!--it's there, it's there, that you could help me. She would
never yield to me. She might to you."
"Oh, I don't think that likely," Sir Basil protested, the flush darkening.
"Yes, yes," said Imogen, leaning toward him above his clasp of her hand.
"Yes, if anything is likely that is so. If hope is anywhere, it's there.
Don't you see, in her eyes I stand for _him_. To yield to me would be like
yielding to him, would be his triumph. That's what she can't forgive in
me--that I do stand for him, that I live by all that she rejected. She
would never yield to me,--but she might yield _for_ you."
"Shall I speak to her about it?" Sir Basil asked abruptly, after another
moment in which Imogen's hand grasped his tightly, its soft, warm fingers
more potent in appeal than even her eyes had been. And now, again,
she leaned toward him, her eyes inundating him with radiant trust and
gratitude, her hands drawing his hand to her breast and holding it there,
"Will you?--Oh, will you?--dear Sir Basil."
Sir Basil stammered a little. "I'll have a try--It's hard on you, I think.
I don't see why you shouldn't have your heart's desire. It's an awfully
queer thing to do,--but, for your sake, I'll have a try--put it to her, you
"Ah, I _knew_ that you were big," said Imogen.
He looked at her, his hand between her hands. The flowering laurel was
behind her head. The pine-forest murmured about them. The sky was blue
above them, and the deep blue of the distance lay at their feet. Suddenly,
as they looked into each other's eyes, it dawned in the consciousness of
both that something was happening.
It was to Sir Basil that it was happening. Imogen's was but the
consciousness of his experience. Such a thing could hardly happen to
Imogen. Neither her senses, nor her emotions, nor her imagination played
any dominant part in her nature. She was incapable of falling in love in
the helpless, headlong, human fashion that the term implies. But though
such feeling lacked, the perception of it in others was swift, and while
she leaned to Sir Basil in the sunlight, while she clasped his hand to her
breast, while their eyes dwelt deeply on each other, she seemed to hear,
like a rising chime of wonder and delight, the ringing of herald bells that
sang: "Mine--mine--mine--if I choose to take him."
Wonderful indeed it was to feel this influx of certain power. Sunlight,
like that about them, seemed to rise, slowly, softly, within her, like the
upwelling of a spring of joy.
It was happening, it had happened to him, his eyes told her that; but
whether he knew as she did she doubted and, for the beautiful moment, it
added a last touch of charm to her exultation to know that, while she was
sure, she could leave that light veil of his wonder shimmering between
With the vision of the unveiling her mind leaped to the thought of her
mother and of Jack, and with that thought came a swift pulse of vengeful
gladness. So she would make answer to them both--the scorner--the rejector.
Not for a moment must she listen to the voices of petty doubts and pities.
This love, that lay like a bauble in her mother's hand--an unfit ornament
for her years--would shine on her own head like a diadem. Unasked,
undreamed of, it had turned to her; it was her highest duty to keep and
wear it. It was far, far more than her duty to herself; it was her duty to
this man, finished, mature, yet full of unawakened possibility; it was her
duty to that large, vague world that his life touched, a world where her
young faiths and vigors would bring a light such as her mother's gay little
taper could never spread. These thoughts, and others, flashed through
Imogen's mind, with the swiftness and exactitude of a drowning vision. Yet,
after the long moment of vivid realization, it was at its height that a
qualm, a sinking overtook her. The gift had come; of that she was sure. But
its triumphant displayal might be delayed--nay, might be jeopardized. Some
perverse loyalty in his nature, some terrified decisiveness of action on
her mother's part, and the golden reality might even be made to crumble.
For one moment, as the qualm seized her, she saw herself--and the thought
was like a flying flame that scorched her lips as it passed--she saw
herself sweeping aside the veil, sinking upon his breast, with tears that
would reveal him to himself and her to him.
But it was impossible for Imogen to yield open-eyed to temptation that
could not be sanctified. Her strong sense of personal dignity held her from
the impulse, and a quick recognition, too, that it might lower her starry
altitude in his eyes. She must stand still, stand perfectly still, and he
would come to her. She could protect him from her mother's clinging--this
she recognized as a strange yet an insistent duty--but between him and her
there must not be a shadow, an ambiguity.
The radiance of the renunciation, the resolve, was in her face as she
gently released his hand, gently rose, standing smiling, with a strange,
rapt smile, above him.
Sir Basil rose, too, silent, and looking hard at her. She guessed at the
turmoil, the wonder of his honest soul, his fear lest she did guess it,
and, with the fear, the irrepressible hope that, in some sense, it was
"My dear, dear friend," she said, putting her hand on his shoulder,
as though with the gesture she dubbed him her knight, "my more than
friend--shall it be elder brother?--I believe that you will be able to
help me and my father. And if you fail--my gratitude to you will be none
the less great. I can't tell you how I trust you, how I care for you."
From his face she looked up at the sky above them; and in the sunlight
her innocent, uplifted smile made her like a heavenly child. "Isn't it
wonderful?--beautiful?--" she said, almost conquering her inner fear by
the seeming what she wished to be. "Look up, Sir Basil!--Doesn't it seem
to heal everything,--to glorify everything,--to promise everything?"
He looked up at the sky, still speechless. Her face, her smile--the sky
above it--did it not heal, glorify, promise in its innocence? If a great
thing claims one suddenly, must not the lesser things inevitably go?--Could
one hold them?--Ought one to try to hold them? There was tumult in poor Sir
Basil's soul, the tumult of partings and meetings.
But when everything culminated in the longing to seize this heavenly
child--this heavenly woman--to seize and kiss her--a sturdy sense of
honesty warned him that not so could he, with honor, go forward. He must
see his way more clearly than that. Strange that he had been so blind, till
now, of where all ways, since his coming to Vermont, had been leading him.
He could see them now, plainly enough.
Taking Imogen's hand once more, he pressed it, dropped it, looked into her
eyes and said, as they turned to the descent: "That was swearing eternal
friendship, wasn't it!"
Violent emotions, in highly civilized surroundings, may wonderfully be
effaced by the common effort of those who have learned how to live. Of
these there were, perhaps, not many in our little group; but the guidance
of such a past mistress of the art as Imogen's mother steered the social
craft, on this occasion, past the reefs and breakers into a tolerably
With an ally as facile, despite his personal perturbations, as Sir Basil,
a friend like Mrs. Wake at hand--a friend to whom one had never to make
explanations, yet who always understood what was wanted of her,--with
a presence so propitious as the calm and unconscious Miss Bocock, the
sickening plunges of explanation and recrimination that accompany unwary
seafaring and unskilful seamanship were quite avoided in the time that
passed between Valerie's appearance at the tea-table--where she dispensed
refreshment to Mrs. Wake, Miss Bocock, and Jack only--and the meeting of
all the ship's crew at dinner.
Valerie, in that ominous interlude, even when Sir Basil appeared on the
veranda, alone, but saying that he had been for a walk with Miss Upton, who
was tired and had gone to her room to rest, even when she observed that
the Pottses had decided upon maintaining a splendid isolation in their
own chambers, did not permit the ship to turn for one moment in such a
direction. She had tea sent up to Imogen and tea sent up to the Pottses;
but no messages of any sort accompanied either perfectly appointed tray,
and when the dinner hour arrived she faced the Pottses' speechless dignity
and Imogen's _mater dolorosa_ eyelids with perfect composure. She seemed,
on meeting the Pottses, neither to ignore nor to recall.
She seemed to understand speechlessness, yet to take it lightly, as if on
their account. She talked at them, through them, with them, really, in such
a manner that they were drawn helplessly into her shuttle and woven into
the gracefully gliding pattern of social convention in spite of themselves.
In fact, she preserved appearances with such success that everyone, to each
one's surprise, was able to make an excellent dinner.
After high emotions, as after high seas, the appetite is capricious,
shrinking to the shudder of repulsion or rising to whetted keenness.
Valerie had the satisfaction of seeing that her crew, as they assured
themselves--or, rather, as she assured them--that the waters were silken
in their calm, showed the reaction from moral stress in wholesome sensuous
gratification. Even Mrs. and Mr. Potts, even Imogen, were hungry.
She herself had still too strongly upon her the qualm of imminent shipwreck
to do more than seem to join them; but it was only natural that the
captain, who alone was conscious of just how near the reefs were and of
just how threatening the horizon loomed, should lack the appetite that his
reassuring presence evoked. Jack noticed that she ate nothing, but he alone
It was perhaps Jack who noticed most universally at that wonderful little
dinner, where the shaded candle-light seemed to isolate them in its soft,
diffused circle of radiance and the windows, with their faintly stirring
muslin curtains, to open on a warm, mysterious ocean of darkness. The
others were too much occupied with their own particular miseries and in
their own particular reliefs to notice how the captain fared.
Mrs. Wake must, no doubt, guess that something was up, but she couldn't
in the least guess how much. She watched, but her observation, her
watchfulness, could be in no sense like his own. Miss Bocock, in a low-cut
blouse of guipure and pale-blue satin, her favorite red roses pinned on
her shoulder, her fringe freshly and crisply curled above her eyeglasses,
was the only quite unconscious presence, and so innocent was her
unconsciousness that it could not well be observant. Indeed, in one sinking
moment, she leaned forward, with unwonted kindliness, to ask the stony Mrs.
Potts if her headache was better, a question received with a sphinx-like
bow. Apart, however, from the one or two blunders of unconsciousness, Jack
saw that Miss Bocock was very useful to Valerie; more useful than himself,
on whom, he felt, her eye did not venture to rest for any length of time.
Too tragic a consciousness would rise between them if their glances too
Miss Bocock's gaze, behind its crystal medium, was a smooth surface from
which the light balls of dialogue rebounded easily. Miss Bocock thought
that she had never talked so well upon her own topics as on this occasion,
and from the intentness of the glances turned upon her she might well have
been misled as to her effectiveness. The company seemed to thirst for every
detail as to her theory of the rise of the Mycenean civilization. Mrs.
Wake, for all her tact, was too wary, too observant, to fill so perfectly
the part of buffer-state as was Miss Bocock.
If one wanted pure amusement, with but the faintest tincture of pity to
color it, the countenances of the Pottses were worth close study. That
their silence was not for one moment allowed to become awkward, to
themselves, or to others, Jack recognized as one of Valerie's miracles that
night, and when he considered that the Pottses might not guess to whom they
owed their ease, he could hardly pity them. That their eyes should not meet
his, except for a heavy stare or two, was natural. After this meeting in
the mirage-like oasis that Valerie made bloom for them all, he knew that
for the Pottses he would be relegated to the sightless, soundless Saharas
of a burning remembrance. It was but a small part of his attention that was
spared to the consciousness that Mr. Potts was very uplifted, that Mrs.
Potts was very tense, and that Mrs. Potts's dress, as if in protest against
any form of relaxation and condonation, was very, very high and tight.
Indeed, Mrs. Potts, in her room, before the descent, had said to her
husband, in the mutual tones of their great situation, laying aside with
resolution the half-high bodice that, till then, had marked her concession
to fashionable standards, "Never, never again, in her house. Let her bare
her bosom if she will. I shall protest against her by every symbol."
Mr. Potts, with somber justice, as though he exonerated an Agrippina from
one of many crimes, had remarked that the bosom, as far as he had observed
it, had been slightly veiled; but:--"I understand those tuckers," Mrs.
Potts had replied with a withering smile, presenting her back for her
husband to hook, a marital office that usually left Mr. Potts in an
So Mrs. Potts this evening seemed at once to mourn, to protest and to
accuse, covered to her chin with a relentless black.
But, though Jack saw all this, he was not in the humor for more than a
superficial sense of amusement. With his excited sense of mirth was a
deeper sense of disaster, and the poor Pottses were at once too grotesque
and too insignificant to satisfy it.
It was upon Imogen and Sir Basil that his eye most frequently turned.
Valerie had put them together, separated from herself by the whole length
of the table; Mr. Potts was on Imogen's other hand; Miss Bocock sat between
Mr. Potts and Valerie, and Jack, Mrs. Wake and Mrs. Potts brought the
circle round to Sir Basil, a neat gradation of affinities.
Jack, in a glance, had seen that Imogen had been passionately weeping; he
could well imagine that grief. But before her pallid face and sunken eyes
he knew that his heart was hardened. Never, judged from a dispassionate
standard, had Imogen been so right, and her rightness left him indifferent.
If she had been wrong; if she had been, in some sense guilty, if her
consciousness had not been so supremely spotless, he would have been
sorrier for her. It was the woman beside him whose motives he could not
penetrate, whose action to-day had seemed to him mistaken, it was for her
that his heart ached. Imogen he seemed to survey from across a far, wide
chasm of alienation.
Sir Basil was evidently as bent on helping her as was her mother. He talked
very gaily, tossing back all Valerie's balls. He rallied Miss Bocock on
her radical tendencies, and engaged in a humorous dispute with Mrs. Wake
in defense of racing. Imogen, when he spoke, turned her eyes on him and
listened gravely. When her mother spoke, she looked down at her plate. But
once or twice Jack caught her eye, while her mother's attention was engaged
elsewhere, resting upon her with a curious, a piercing intentness. Such a
cold glitter, as of steel, was in the glance, that, instinctively, his own
turned on Valerie, as if he had felt her threatened.
This instinct of protection was oddly on the watch to-night. Under
the sense of mirth and disaster a deeper thing throbbed in him, some
inarticulate sorrow, greater than the apparent causes warranted, that
mourned with and for her. In the illumination of this intuition Valerie, he
thought, had never been so lovely as to-night. It seemed to him that her
body, with its indolence of aspect, expressed an almost superhuman courage.
She was soft and fragile and weary, leaning there in her transparent black,
her cheek in her hand, her elbow, in, its loose sleeve, resting on the
table; but she made him think of a reed: that the tempest could not break.
Her face was pale, he had never seen it so drained of its dusky rose. There
was something inexpressibly touching in the flicker of her smile on the
white, white cheek, in the innocent gaiety of the dimple placed high and
recalling Japanese suggestions, vague as the scent of sandal-wood. She,
too, had wept, as he well knew; and his heart ached, dully, as he thought
of that bitter weeping, those tears, of humility and pain. Her eyelids,
strangely discolored, were like the petals of a melancholy flower, and her
eyes were heavy and gentle.
A vague, absurdly alarming sense of presage grew upon him as his eyes went
from this face to Imogen's--so still, so cold, so unanswering, lightened,
as if from a vail of heavy cloud, by that stealthy, baleful, illuminating
glance. In Imogen's whole bearing he read renouncement, but renouncement,
in her hand, would assuredly prove a scourge for her mother's shoulders.
For the time that they must be together, she and her mother, her sense of
her own proved rightness would be relentless, as inflexible as and as
relentless as her sense of bitter wrong.
Valerie's shoulders were bared and bowed. She was ready to take it all. But
it was here, for Jack, that the deep instinct of protection centered at
last in a clear decision; it was here that he felt himself rush in with the
only solution, the only salvation. At the thought of it, that one solution,
his heart ached more sharply, but it ached for himself alone. For she must
go away; yes, that was the only escape; she must go away at once, with Sir
Basil. She had failed. She had said it to him that morning in a few broken
sentences before relinquishing the hand she grasped.
"I've done more than fail. I've wrecked things"; and she had smiled
piteously upon him and left him.
He knew of what she spoke, of the disaster that, as she had seen, finally
and irrevocably had overtaken his love for her child.
And it was true, of course. She had failed. She had wrecked things; but in
his eyes, the failure she bore, the destruction she brought, made others
dark, not her. She must accept the irony of things,--it was not on her that
its shadow rested, and she must go, back to her own place, back to her own
serene, if saddened, sunlight, where she could breathe again and be safe
from scourgings. Thank heaven for Sir Basil, was Jack's thought, over that
sharpened ache. And it was with this thought that, for Jack, came the first
sinister whisper, the whisper that, as suddenly as the hiss of a viper
trodden upon in the grass, warned him of the fulfilment, clear, startling,
unimaginable, of all dim presages.
He always remembered, ludicrously, that they had reached the sweet when the
whisper came, and with his recollection of its import there mingled for him
always the incongruous association of sliced peaches and iced cream. He had
just helped himself to this dish when, raising his eyes, he saw Sir Basil
looking at Imogen.
It was, apparently, a calm, a thoughtful look, and as Imogen's eyes were
downcast to her fruit and cream, which she was eating with much appetite,
she did not then meet it. But it was a look a little off guard;--his
perception of that was the first low sibilant that reached him;--it was a
look full of gentle solicitude, full of brooding, absorbed intentness; and
presently, when Imogen, as if aware of it, glanced up and met it, Sir Basil
deeply flushed and turned his eyes away.
This passage was a small enough cause to make one suddenly grow very
chilly; Jack tried to tell himself that, as he mechanically went on eating.
Perhaps Imogen had confided in Sir Basil; perhaps he agreed with her, was
sorry, sympathetic, and embarrassed by a sympathy that set him against the
woman he loved; perhaps he already felt a protecting, paternal affection
for Imogen, just as he himself, in the absurd inversions of their
situation, felt a protecting filial affection for Valerie. But at that
thought--as if the weak links of his chain of possibilities had snapped and
left him at the verge of a chasm, a sudden echo in himself revealed depths
of disastrous analogy. It was revelation that came to Jack, rather than
self-revelation; the instinct that flamed up in him at this moment was like
a torch in a twilit cavern. He might have seen the looming shapes fairly
well without it, but, by its illumination, every uncertainty started out
into vivid light and dark. The fact that his own feeling was so far other
than filial did not detain him. His light was not turned upon himself; of
himself he only knew, in that dazzling moment, that he was armed as her
knight, armed for her battle as a son could not have been; it was upon Sir
Basil, upon Imogen, that the torch-light rested.
He looked presently from them to Valerie. Did she know at all what was her
peril? Had she seen at all what threatened her? Her face told him nothing.
She was talking to Miss Bocock, and her serenity, as of mellow moonlight,
cooled and calmed him a little so that he could wonder whether the peril
was very imminent. Even if the unbelievable had happened;--even if Imogen
had ensnared Sir Basil--Jack's thoughts, in dealing with poor Imogen,
passed in their ruthlessness beyond the facts--even if she had ensnared
him, surely, surely, she could not keep him. The glamour would pass from
him. He would be the first to fight clear of it were he fully aware of what
it signified. For Imogen knew,--the torch-light had revealed that to
Jack,--Imogen knew, he and Imogen, alone, knew. Sir Basil didn't and
Valerie didn't. Single-handed he might save them both. Save them both from
To this strange landing-place had his long voyage, away from old ports, old
landmarks, brought him; and on its rocks he stepped to-night, bound on a
perilous quest in an unknown country. It seemed almost like the coast of
another planet, so desolate, so lonely. But beyond the frowning headlines
he imagined that he would find, far inland, quiet green stretches where he
would rest, and think of her. The landing was bathed in a light sadder, but
sweeter far than the sunlight of other countries. Here he was to fight, not
for himself, but for her.
The first move of strategy was made directly after dinner. He asked Imogen
to come out and see the moonlight with him.
A word to the wise was a word to Mrs. Wake, who safely cornered Miss Bocock
and the Pottses over a game of cards. Jack saw Valerie and Sir Basil
established on the veranda, and then led Imogen away, drew her from her
quarry, along the winding path in the woods.
Valerie, on sinking into the low wicker chair, and drawing her chuddah
about her shoulders, drawing it closely, although the evening was not cool
had expected to find Jack, or Mrs. Wake, or Miss Bocock presently beside
She had watched, as they wandered, all of them, into the drawing-room, the
hovering, long since familiar to her, of Sir Basil. She had seen that his
eye was as much on Imogen as on herself. She had seen Imogen's eye meet his
with a deep insistence. What it commanded, this eye, Valerie did not know,
but she had grown accustomed to seeing such glances obeyed and she expected
to watch, presently, Imogen's and Sir Basil's departure into the moonlit
It was, therefore, with surprise that she looked up to see Sir Basil's form
darken against the sky. He asked if he might smoke his cigar beside her,
and the intelligent smile he knew so well rested upon him as he took the
chair next hers.
In the slight pause that followed, both were thinking that, since their
parting in England they had really been very seldom alone together, and in
Sir Basil's mind was a wonder, very disquieting, as to what, really, had
been the understanding under the parting.
He was well aware that any vagueness as to understanding had been owing
entirely to Valerie, well aware that had she not always kept about them the
atmosphere of sunny frankness and gay friendship, he would without doubt
have entangled himself and her in the complications of an avowed devotion,
and that long before her husband's death. For how she had charmed him, this
gay, this deep-hearted friend, descending suddenly on his monotonous life
with a flutter of wings, a flash of color, a liquid pulse of song, like
some strange, bright bird. Charm had grown to affection and to trustful
need, and then to the restlessness and pain and sadness of his hidden
passion. He would have spoken, he knew it very well, were it not that she
had never given him the faintest chance to speak, the faintest excuse for
speaking. She had kept him from any avowal so completely that he might
well, now, wonder if his self-control had not been owing far more to the
intuition of hopelessness than to mere submission. Could she have kept him
so silent, had she been the least little bit in love with him? He had, of
course, been tremendously in love with her--it was bewildering to use the
past tense, indeed--and she, of course, clever creature that she was, must
have known it; but hadn't he been very fatuous in imagining that beneath
her fond, playful friendship lay the possibility of a deeper response?
Since seeing her again, in her effaced, maternal role, he had realized that
she was more middle-aged than he had ever thought her, and since coming
to Vermont there had been a new emphasis in this cool, gray quality that
removed her the more from associations with youth and passion. So was he
brought, by the dizzy turn of events, to hoping that loyalty to his own
past love was, for him, the only question, since loyalty to her, in that
respect, had never been expected of him.
Yet, as he took his place beside her and looked at her sitting there in the
golden light, wrapped round in white, very wan and pale, despite her smile,
he felt the strangest, twisted pang of divided desire.
She was wan and she was pale, but she was not cool, she was not gray; he
felt in her, as strongly as in far-off days, the warmth and fragrance, and
knew that it was Imogen who had so cast her into a shadow. Her image had
grown dim on that very first time of seeing Imogen standing as Antigone in
the rapt, hushed theater. That dawn had culminated to-day in the
over-mastering, all-revealing burst of noon, and from its radiance the past
had been hardly visible except as shadow. But now he sat in the moonlight,
the past personified in the quiet presence beside him, and the memory of
noonday itself became mirage-like and uncertain. He almost felt as if he
had been having a wild dream, and that Valerie's glance was the awakening
To think of Imogen's filial grief and of his promise to her,--a promise
deeply recalled to him by the message of her tear-worn eyes,--to steady his
mind to the task of friendly helpfulness, was to put aside the accompanying
memory of eyes, lips, gold hair on a background of flowering laurel,
was to re-enter, through sane, kind altruism, his old, normal state of
consciousness, and to shut the door on something very sweet and wonderful,
to shut the door--in Imogen's phraseology--on his soul, but, in doing that,
to be loyal to the older hope.
Perhaps, he reflected, looking at Valerie through the silvery circles of
smoke, it depended on her as to whether the door should remain shut on
all the high visions of the last weeks. After all, it had always depended
on her, tremendously, as to where he should find himself. Certainly he
couldn't regard her as the antithesis of soul, though he didn't associate
her with its radiant demonstration, yet he felt that, if she so willed it,
she could lock the door on visions and keep him sanely, safely, sweetly
beside her for the future. If she really did care. Poor Sir Basil, sitting
there in his faint cloud of smoke, while clouds of doubt and perplexity--as
impalpable drifted through his mind, really couldn't for the life of him
have told which solution he most hoped for.
He plunged from the rather humiliating pause of self-contemplation into
the more congenial field of action, with a last swift thought--most
illuminating of all--as he plunged--that in the results of action he would
find his test. If she cared for him--really cared--she would grant his
request; and if she cared, why then, not only reawakened loyalty, but some
very deep acquiescence in his own nature, would keep him beside her, and
to-night would see them as affianced lovers. It would be a pity to have let
one's new-found soul go; but, after all, it was so very new that the pang
of parting would soon be over; that was a good point about middle-age, one
soon got over pangs, soon forgot visions.
"I want to talk to you about something. I'm going to ask you to be kinder
to me, even, than you've ever been,"--so he approached the subject, while
the mingled peace and bitterness of the last thoughts lingered with him.
"I'm going to ask you to let me be very indiscreet, very intimate. It's
about something very personal."
Valerie no longer smiled, but she looked even more gentle and even more
intelligent. "I will be as kind as you can possibly want me to be," she
"It's about--about Miss Upton."
"About Imogen? Don't you call her Imogen yet? You must."
"I will. I've just begun"; and with this avowal Sir Basil turned away his
eyes for a moment, and even in the moonlight showed his flush. "I had a
long talk with her this afternoon."
"Yes. I supposed that you had. You may be perfectly frank with me," said
Valerie, her eyes on his averted face.
"She was most dreadfully cut up, you know. She came rushing up to the pine
woods--I was smoking there--rushing up as if she were running for her
life--crying,--exhausted,--in a dreadful state."
"Yes. I know."
"Yes, of course you do. What don't you know and what don't you understand,"
said Sir Basil gratefully, his eyes coming back to hers. "So I needn't go
over it all--what she feels about it. I realize very well that you feel for
her as much as I do."
"Oh, yes, you must realize that," said Valerie, a little faintly.
"She was in such a state that one simply had to try to comfort her,--if one
could,--and we have come to be such friends;--so she told me everything."
"Yes. Of course."
"Well that's just it. What I want to ask you is--can't you, for her sake,
quite apart from your own feelings--give in about it?" So spoke Sir Basil,
sitting in the moonlight, the spark of his cigar waning as, in the long
pause that followed, he held it, forgotten, in an expectant, arrested
hand. Her voice had helped and followed him with such gentleness, such
understanding that, though the pause grew, he hardly thought that it needed
the added, "I do beg it of you," that he brought out presently to make her
acquiescence more sure; and his shock of disappointment was sharpened by
surprise to a quick displeasure when, her eyes passing from his face and
resting for long on the shadowy woods, she said in a deadened voice, a
voice strangely lacking in feeling:--"I can't."
He couldn't conceal the disappointment nor, quite, the displeasure. "You
can't? Really you can't?--Forgive me, but don't you think she's a right to
have it written, her father's life, you know, if she feels so deeply about
"I can't. I will never give my consent," Valerie repeated.
"But, she's breaking her heart over it," Sir Basil deeply protested; and
before the quality of the protestation she paused again, as though to give
herself time to hide something.
"I know that it is hard for her," was all she said at last.
Protestation gave way to wonder, deep and sad. "And for her sake--for _my_
sake, let me put it--you can't let bygones be bygones?--You can't give her
her heart's desire?--My dear friend, it's such a little thing."
"I know that. But it's for his sake that I can't," said Valerie.
Sir Basil, at this, was silent, for a long time. Perplexity mingled with
his displeasure, and the pain of failure, the strangely complex pain.
She did not care for him enough; and she was wrong, and she was fantastic
in her wrongness. For his sake?--the dead husband, whom, after all, she had
abandoned and made unhappy?--Imogen's words came crowding upon him like
a host of warning angel visages. She actually told him that this cruel
thwarting of her child was for the sake of the child's father?
It was strange and pitiful that a woman so sweet, so lovely, should so
grotesquely deceive herself as to her motives for refusing to see bare
"May I ask why for him?--I don't understand," he said.
Valerie now turned her eyes once more on his face. With his words, with the
tone, courteous yet cold, in which they were spoken, she recognized a
reached landmark. For a long time she had caught glimpses of it, ominously
glimmering ahead of her, through the sunny mists of hope, across the wide
stretches of trust. And here it was at last, but so suddenly, for all her
presages, that she almost lost her breath for a moment in looking at it and
what it marked. Here, unless she grasped, paths might part. Here, unless