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A Fountain Sealed by Anne Douglas Sedgwick

Part 6 out of 6

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you, or quarrel with anyone so comfortably;--and besides," Rose added with
characteristic impertinence, "the truth is, my dear, that I want to be your
mother's daughter. It's that that has done it. I want to show her how nice
a daughter can be to her. I want to take Imogen's place. I'll be an
extremely bad wife, Eddy, but a good daughter-in-law. I adore your mother
so much that for her sake I'll put up with you."

Eddy said that she might adore any one as much as she liked so long as she
allowed him to put up with her for a lifetime. They did understand each
other, these two, and Valerie, though a little troubled by the something
hard and bright in their warring courtship, something that, she feared,
would make their path, though always illuminated, often rough, could
welcome her new daughter with real gladness.

"I know that you'll never care for me, as I do for you," said Rose, "and
that you will often scold me; but your scoldings will be my religion. Don't
spare them. You are my ideal, you know."

This speech, made in her presence, was, Imogen knew, intended as a cut at
herself. She heard it serenely. But Rose was more vexatious than Mary in
that she wasn't leaving her behind. Rose was already sparring with Eddy as
to when he would take her over to England for a season of hunting. Eddy
firmly held himself before her as a poor man, and when Rose dangled her own
wealth before him remarked that she could, of course, go without him, if
she liked. It was evident, in spite of sparring and hardness, that Rose
wouldn't like at all; and evident, too, that Eddy would often be wheedled
into a costly holiday. Imogen had to foresee a future of tolerance toward
Rose. Their worlds would not do more than merge here and there.

Imogen had, already, very distinct ideas as to her new world. It hovered as
important and political; the business of Rose's world would be its
relaxation only. For Imogen would never change colors, and her frown for
mere fashion would be as sad as ever. She was not to change, she was only
to intensify, to become "bigger and better." And this essential stability
was not contradicted by the fact that, in one or two instances, she found
herself developing. She was glad, and in the presence of Mrs. Wake, gravely
to renounce past errors as to the English people. Since coming to know
Basil, typical of his race, its flower, as he was, she had come to see how
far deeper in many respects, how far more evolved that English character
was than their own,--"their," now, signifying "your." "You really saw that
before I did, dear Mrs. Wake," said Imogen.

Already Imogen identified herself with her future husband so that the
defects of the younger civilization seemed no longer her affair, except in
so far as her understanding of them, her love of her dear country, and her
new enlightenments, made her the more eager to help. And then they were all
of the same race; she was very insistent on that; it was merely that the
branch to which she now belonged was a "bigger and better branch." Imogen
was none the less a good American for becoming so devoutly English. From
her knowledge of the younger, more ardent, civilization, her long training
in its noblest school, she could help the old in many ways. England, in
these respects, was like her Basil, before she had wakened him. Imogen felt
that England, too, needed her. And there was undoubtedly a satisfaction in
flashing that new world of hers, so large, so in need of her,--in flashing
it, like a bright, and, it was to be hoped, a somewhat dazzling object,
before the vexatiously imperturbable eyes of Mrs. Wake. Mrs. Wake's dry
smile of congratulation had been almost as unpleasant as Rose's silence.

From Miss Bocock there was neither smile, nor sting, nor silence to endure.
Miss Bocock had suspected nothing, either on the mother's side or on the
daughter's, and took the announcement very placidly. "Indeed. Really. How
very nice. Accept my congratulations," were her comments. Imogen at once
asked her to spend a week-end at Thremdon Hall next Spring, and Miss Bocock
in the same way said: "Thanks. That will be very nice. I've never stayed
there." There was still a subtle irritation in the fact that while Miss
Bocock now accepted her, in the order of things, as one of the "county
people," as the gracious mistress of Thremdon Hall, as very much above a
country doctor's family, she didn't seem to regard her with any more
interest or respect as an individual.

These, after all, were the superficialities of the situation; its deeper
aspects were, Imogen felt, as yet unfaced. Her mother seemed quite content
to let Imogen's silence stand for apology and retractation, quite willing
to go on, for the little further that they had to go together, in an
ambiguous relation. This was, indeed, Imogen felt, her mother's strength;
she could, apparently, put up with any amount of ambiguity and probably
looked upon it as an essential part of life. Perhaps, and here Imogen was
conscious of a twinge of anxiety, she put up with it so quietly because she
didn't recognize it in herself, in her own motives and actions; and this
thought teased at Imogen until she determined that she must stand forth in
the light and show her mother that she, too, was self-assured and she, too,
magnanimous.

She armed herself for the task by a little talk with Sir Basil, the nearest
approach they ever allowed themselves to the delicate complexities in which
they had come to recognize each other and out of which, to a certain
extent, they had had to fight their way to the present harmony. She was
with him, again, among the laurels, a favorite place with them, and Imogen
sat on her former ledge of sunny rock and Sir Basil was extended beside her
on the moss. She had been reading Emerson to him, and when the essay was
finished and she had talked to him a little about the "over-soul,"--dear
Basil's recollections of metaphysics were very confused,--she presently
said to him, letting her hand slide into his while she spoke:--"Basil,
dearest,--I want to ask you something, and you must answer very truly, for
you need never fear that I would flinch from any truth. Tell me,--did you
ever,--ever care for mama?"

Sir Basil, his hat tilted over his eyes, grew very red and looked down at
the moss for some moments without replying.

"Of course I know that, in some sense, you did care," said Imogen, a faint
tremble in her voice, a tremble that, in its sweet acquiescence to
something that was hurting her, touched him infinitely. "I know, too, that
there are loves and loves. I know that anything you may have felt for mama
is as different from what you feel for me as lamplight is from daylight. I
won't speak of it, ever, again, dear Basil; but for this once let me see
clearly what was in your past."

"I did care for her," Sir Basil jerked out at that;--"quite tremendously,
until I saw you. She will always be a dear friend, one of the dearest, most
charming people I've ever known. And, no, it wasn't like lamplight, you
know";--something in that analogy was so hurting Sir Basil that it made
him, for a moment, forget his darling's hurt;--"that wasn't it. Though,
it's quite true, you're like daylight."

"And--and--she?"--Imogen accepted the restatement, though her voice
trembled a little more.

He now looked up at her, a clear, blue ray from his honest eyes. "Well,
there, you know, it _has_ been a relief. I could never tell, in the past;
she showed me nothing, except that friendship; but since she has been free,
since I've seen her over here, she has shown me quite clearly, that it was,
on her side, only that."

Imogen was silent for a long time. She didn't "know" at all. And there was
a great deal to accept; more, oddly enough, than she had ever faced. She
had always believed that it had been like lamplight to daylight. But,
whatever it had been, the day had conquered it. And how dear, how noble of
her lover to show, so unfalteringly, his loyalty to the past. It was with a
sigh made up of many satisfactions that she said at last:--"Dear mama;--I
am so glad that I took nothing she cared for from her."

It was on that afternoon that she found her time for "standing forth in the
light" before her mother.

She didn't want it to be indoors; she felt, vaguely, that four walls would
make them too intimate, as it were; shut them into their mutual
consciousness too closely. So that when she saw her mother, after tea,
watering and gathering her flowers at the edge of the wood, she went out to
her, across the grass, sweet and mild in the long white dress that she had
worn since joy had come to her.

She wished to be very direct, very simple, very sweet.

"Mama, darling," she said, standing there beside her while Valerie, after a
quiet glance up at her, continued to cut her roses;--"I want to say
something to you. This seems such a beautiful time to say deep, grave
things in, doesn't it, this late afternoon hour? I've wanted to say it
since the other night when, through poor Jack's folly of revenge and
blindness, we were all put into such an ugly muddle, at such ugly
cross-purposes." She paused here and Valerie, giving neither assent nor
negation, said: "Yes, Imogen?"

"I want to say to you that I am sorry, mama dear";--Imogen spoke gravely
and with emphasis;--"sorry, in the first place, that I should so have
misjudged you as to imagine that--at your time of life and after your
sobering experience of life--you were involved in a love affair. I see,
now, what a wrong that was to do to you--to your dignity, your sense of
right and fitness. And I'm sorrier that I should have thought you capable
of seconding Jack's attempts to keep from me a love that had drawn to me as
a magnet to the north. The first mistake led to the second. I had heard
your friends conjecturing as to your feeling for Basil, and the pain of
suspecting that of you--my father's new-made widow--led me astray. I think
that in any great new experience one's whole nature is perhaps a little
off-balance, confused. I had suffered so much, in so many ways;--_his_
death;--Jack's unworthiness;--this fear for you;--and then, in these last
days, for what you know, mama, for _him_, because of _him_--my father, a
suffering that no joy will ever efface, that I was made, I think, for a
little time, a stranger to myself. And then came love--wonderful love--and
it shook my nature to its depths. I was dazzled, torn, tempest-tossed;--I
did not see clearly. Let that be my excuse."

Valerie still stopped over her roses, her fingers delicately, accurately
busy, and her face, under the broad brim of her hat, hidden.

Again Imogen paused, the rhythm of her words, like an echo of his voice in
her own, bringing a sudden sharp, sweet, reminiscence of her father, so
that the tears had risen to her eyes in hearing herself. And again, for all
reply, her mother once more said only: "Yes, Imogen."

It was not the reply she had expected, not the reply that she had a right
to expect, and, even out there, with the flowers, so impersonally lovely,
about them, the late radiance softly bathing them, as if in rays of
forgiveness and mild pity, even with the tears, evidences of sorrow and
magnanimity, in her eyes, Imogen felt a little at a loss, a little
confused.

"That is, all, mama," she said;--"just that I am sorry, and that I want you
to feel, in spite of all the sad, the tragic things that there have been
between us, that my deep love for you is there, and that you must trust it
always."

And now there was another silence. Valerie stooping to her flowers,
mysterious, ambiguous indeed, in her shadow, her silence.

Imogen, for all the glory of her mood, felt a thrill of anger, and the
reminiscence that came to her now was of her father's pain, his familiar
pain, for such shadows, such silences, such blights cast upon his highest
impulses. "I hope, mama, that you will always trust my love," she said,
mastering the rising of her resentment.

And once more came the monotonous answer, but given this time with a new
note:--"Yes, Imogen," her mother replied, "you may always trust my love."

She rose at that, and her eyes passed swiftly across her daughter's face,
swiftly and calmly. She was a little flushed, but that might have been from
the long bending over the flowers, and if it was a juggling dexterity that
she used, she had used it indeed so dexterously that it seemed impossible
to say anything more. Imogen could find no words in which to set the turned
tables straight.

She had imagined their little scene ending very beautifully in a grave
embrace and kiss; but no opportunity was given her for this final
demonstration of her spirit of charity. Her mother gathered up her
scissors, her watering-pot, her trowel, and handing Imogen the filled
basket of roses said, "Will you carry these for me, my dear?"

The tone of quiet, everyday kindness dispelled all glory, and set a lower
standard. Here, at this place, very much on the earth, Imogen would always
find her, it seemed to say. It said nothing else.

Yet Imogen knew, as she walked back beside her mother, knew quite as well
as if her mother had spoken the words, that her proffered love had not been
trusted, that she had been penetrated, judged, and, in some irresistible
way, a way that brought no punishment and no reproof, nor even any
lessening of affection, condemned. Her mother still loved her, that was the
helpless conviction that settled upon her; but it was as a child, not as a
personality, that she was loved,--very much as Miss Bocock respected her as
the mistress of Thremdon Hall and not at all on her own account; but her
mother, too, for all her quiet, and all her kindness, thought her
"self-centered, self-righteous, cold-hearted," and--Imogen, in a sharp pang
of insight, saw it all--because of that would not attempt any soul-stirring
appeal or arraignment. She knew too well with what arms of spiritual
assurance she would be met.

It was in silence, while they walked side by side, the basket of roses
between them, that Imogen fiercely seized these arms, fiercely parried the
unuttered arraignment, and, more fiercely, the unuttered love.

She could claim no verbal victory, she had had to endure no verbal defeat;
it was she herself who had forced this issue upon a situation that her
mother would have been content to leave undefined. Her mother would never
fix blame; her mother would never humiliate; but, she had found it to her
own cost,--though the cost was as light as her mother could make it--she
would not consent to be placed where Imogen had wished to place her. Let it
be so, then, let it end on this note of seeming harmony and of silent
discord; it was her mother's act, not her own. Truth was in her and had
made once more its appeal; once more deep had called to deep only to find
shallowness. For spiritual shallowness there must be where an appeal such
as hers could be so misunderstood and so rejected.

She was angry, sore, vindictive, though her sharp insight did not reach so
far as to tell her this; it did, however, tell her that she was wounded to
the quick. But the final refuge was in the thought that she was soon to
leave such judgments and such loves behind her for ever.

XXX

It was on a late October day that Jack Pennington rode over the hills to
Valerie's summer home.

Two months were gone since Imogen's reporter-haunted nuptials had been
celebrated in the bland little country church that raised its white steeple
from the woodlands. Jack had been present at them; decency had made that
necessary, and a certain grimness in his aspect was easily to be
interpreted in a dismal, defeated rival. It was as such, he knew, that he
was seen there.

It had been a funny wedding,--to apply none of the other terms that lay
deeper in him. In watching it from the white-wreathed chancel he had
thought of Valerie's summing-up: "Imogen is one of the people who make the
world go round." The world in every phase had been there, from the British
ambassador and the Langleys to the East Side club girls--brought up from
New York in the special train--and a flourishing consignment of cripples
and nurses. Here and there in her path Imogen might meet the blankness of a
Miss Bocock, the irony of a Mrs. Wake, a disillusion like Mary's, an
insight like his own; but the great world, in its aspect of power and
simplicity, would be with her always. He had realized as never before
Imogen's capacity, when he saw the cohorts of her friends and followers
overflow the church.

She had been a fitting center to it all; though the center, for Jack, was
Valerie, exquisite, mildly radiant, not a hint on her of dispossession or
of doom; but Imogen, white and rapt and grave, had looked almost as
wonderful as on the day when she had first dawned upon Sir Basil's vision.

Jack, watching her uplifted profile as she stood at the altar-rail, found
himself trivially, spitefully, irrelevantly murmuring:--"Her nose _is_ too
small." And yet she looked more than ever like a Botticelli Madonna.

Rose and Eddy were to be married that winter in New York, a gigantic
opportunity for the newspapers, for already half the world seemed trooping
to the festivities. Afterward, with old-fashioned Americanism, they would
live in quite a little house and try to forget about Rose's fortune until
Eddy made his.

Valerie was to have none of the bother of this wedding. Mrs. Packer, a
mournful, jeweled, faded little beauty, was well fitted to cope with such
emergencies. Her secretaries sat already with pens poised.

Imogen's wedding had kept her mother working like a galley-slave, so Rose
told Jack, with the familiarity that was now justifiable in one who was
almost of the family, and that Eddy had told her, with much disgust of
demeanor, that its financing had eaten pretty deeply into his mother's
shrunken means. Rose made no open denunciation; she, no more than anyone
else, could guess from Jack's silence what his feeling about Imogen might
really be. But she was sure that he was well _over_ her, and that, above
all, he was one of the elect who _saw_ Mrs. Upton; she could allow herself
a musing survey of all that the mother had done for the daughter, adding,
and it was really with a wish for strict justice: "Of course Imogen never
had any idea of money, and she'll never realize what she cost." In another
and a deeper sense it might be that that was the kindest as well as the
truest thing to say of Imogen.

Since the wedding he knew that Valerie had been quietly at the little house
among the hills, alone for the most part, though Mrs. Wake was often with
her and the Pakenhams had paid her a visit on their way back to England.
Now Mrs. Wake was gone back to New York, and her own departure was to take
place in a few days. Jack, spending a week-end with friends not beyond
riding distance, felt that he must see her again in the surroundings where
he had come to know her so well and to know himself as so changed.

He rode over the crests of hills in the flaming, aromatic woods. The fallen
leaves paved his way with gold. In the deep distances, before him a still,
blue haze, like the bloom on ripe grape-clusters, lay over the purples of
the lower ranges. Above, about, before him was the blue sky of the
wonderful American "fall," high, clear, crystalline. The air was like an
elixir. Jack's eyes were for all this beauty,--"the vast, unconscious
scenery of my land," the line that drifted in his thoughts,--his own
consciousness, taken up into his contemplation, seeming as vast and as
unperplexed. But under his calm, his happy sadness, that, too, seemed a
part of the day, ran, like the inner echo to the air's intoxication, a
stream of deep, still excitement.

He did not think directly of Valerie, but vague pictures passed,
phantom-like, before his mind. He saw her in her garden, gathering late
flowers; he saw her reading under the fringe of vine-leaves and tendrils;
he saw her again in the wintry New York of snow, sunlight, white, gold and
blue, or smiling down from the high-decked steamer against a sky of frosty
rose; he saw her on all possible and adequate backgrounds of the land he so
loved. But,--oh, it was here that the under-current, the stream of
excitement seemed to rise, foaming, circling, submerging him, choking him,
with tides of grief and desolation,--seeing her, too, in that land she
loved;--not in the Surrey garden, no, no,--that was shut to her for
ever;--but in some other, some distant garden, high-walled, the pale gold
and gray of an autumnal sunset over its purpling bricks, or on a
flower-dappled common in spring, or in spring woods filled with wild
hyacinths and primroses. How he could see her, place her, over there, far,
far away, from his country--and from him.

It was, after the last sharp trot, the last leisurely uphill canter, on the
bordering, leaf-strewn grass of the winding road, where the white walls and
gray roof of the little house showed among the trees, that all the
undercurrent seemed to center in a knot of suffocating expectancy and pain.

And Valerie, while Jack so rode, so approached her, was fulfilling one of
his visions. She had spent the afternoon in her garden, digging, planting,
"messing" as she expressed it, very happily among her borders, where late
flowers, purple and white and gold, still bloomed. She was planning all
sorts of things for her garden, a row of double-cherry-trees to stand at
the edges of the woods and be symbols of paradise in spring, with their
deep upon deep of miraculous white. Little almond-trees, too, frail sprays
of pink on a spring sky, and quince-trees that would show in autumn among
ample foliage the pale gold of their softly-furred fruit. She wanted spring
flowers to run back far into the woods, the climbing roses and honeysuckle
to make summer delicious among the vines of the veranda. The afternoon,
full of such projects, passed pleasantly, and when she came in and dressed
for her solitary tea, she felt pleasantly tired. She walked up and down the
drawing-room, its white walls warm with the reflections of outer sunlight,
listening vaguely to the long trail of her black tea-gown behind her,
looking vaguely from the open windows at the purple distances set in their
nearer waves of flame.

At the end of the room, before the austere little mantelpiece, she paused
presently to look at herself in the austere little mirror with its
compartments of old gilt; at herself, the illuminated white of the room
behind her reflection. A narrow crystal vase mirrored itself beside her
leaning arm, and its one tall rose, set among green leaves and russet stems
and thorns, spread depths of color near her cheek. Valerie's eyes went from
her face to the rose. The rose was fresh, glowing, perfect. Her face,
lovely still, was faded.

She stood there, leaning beside the flower, the fingers of her supporting
hand sunken deep in the chestnut masses of her hair, and noted, gravely,
earnestly, the delicate signs and seals of stealing age.

Never, never again would her face be like the rose, young, fresh, perfect.
And she herself was no longer young; in her heart she knew the stillness,
the droop, the peace--almost the peace--of softly-falling petals.

How young she had been, how lovely, how full of sweetness. That was the
thought that pierced her suddenly, the thought of wasted sweetness,
unrecorded beauty, unnoted, unloved, all to go, to pass away for ever. It
seemed hardly for herself she grieved, but for the doom of all youth and
loveliness; for the fleeting, the impermanence of all life. The vision of
herself passed to a vision of the other roses, the drooping, the doomed,
scattering their petals in the chill breeze of coming winter.

"Poor things," was her thought,--her own self-pity had part only in its
inclusiveness,--"summer is over for all of us."

And with the thought, girlishly, still girlishly, she hid her face upon her
arms as she stood there, murmuring:--"Ah, I hate, I hate getting old."

A step at the door roused her. She turned to see Jack entering.

Jack looked very nice in the tans and russets of his riding-tweeds and
gaiters. The chill air had brought a clear color to his cheeks; the pale
gold of his hair,--one unruly lock, as usual, over-long, lying across his
forehead,--shone like sunlight; his gray eyes looked as deep and limpid as
a mountain pool.

Valerie was very, very glad to see him. He embodied the elixir, the color,
the freshness of the world to-day: and oh how young--how young--how
fortunately, beautifully young he looked;--that was the thought that met
him from the contrast of the mirror.

She gave him her hands in welcome, and they sat down near a window where
the sunlight fell upon them and the breeze blew in upon them, she on a
little sofa, among chintz cushions, he on a low chair beside her; and while
they talked, that excitement, that pain and expectancy grew in Jack.

The summer was over and, soon, it must be, she would go. With a wave of
sadness that sucked him back and swept him forward in a long, sure ache,
came the knowledge, deeper than before, of his own desolation. But, sitting
there beside her in the October sunlight; feeling, with the instinct, so
quick, so sensitive in him, that it was in sadness he had found her, the
desolation wasn't so much for himself as for her, what she represented and
stood for. He, too, seeing her face with the blooming rose beside it, had
known her piercing thought.

She was going; but in other senses, too. She had begun to go; and all the
sacrifices, the relinquishments, the acceptances of the summer, were the
first steps of departure. She had done with things and he, who had not yet
done with them, was left behind. Already the signs of distance were upon
her--he saw them as she had seen them--her distance from the world of
youth, of hope, of effort.

A thin veil, like the sad-sweet haze over the purpling hills, seemed to
waver between them; the veil that, for all its melting elusiveness, parts
implacably one generation from another. Its dimness seemed to rest on her
bright hair and to hover in her bright eyes; to soften, as with a faint
melancholy, the brightness of her smile. And it was as if he saw her, with
a little sigh, unclasp her hands, that had clung to what she fancied to be
still her share of life,--unclasp her hands, look round her with a slight
amaze at the changed season where she found herself, and, after the
soundless pause of recognition, bend her head consentingly to the quiet,
obliterating snows of age. And once more his own change, his own initiation
to subtler standards, was marked by the fact that when the old, ethical
self, still over-glib with its assurances, tried to urge upon him that all
was for the best in a wonderful world, ventured to murmur an axiom or so as
to the grace, the dignity, the added spiritual significance of old age, the
new self, awakened to tragedy, turned angry eyes upon that vision of the
rose in the devastated garden, and once more muttered, in silence:--"Damn!"

They had talked of the past and of the coming marriage, very superficially,
in their outer aspects; they had talked of his summer wanderings and of the
Pakenhams' visit to Vermont. She had given him tea and she had told him of
her plans for the winter;--she had given up the New York house, and had
taken a little flat near Mrs. Wake's, that she was going to move to in a
few days from now. And Jack said at last, feeling that with the words he
dived from shallows into deeps:--"And--when are you going back?--back to
England?"

"Going back?"--She repeated his words with vagueness.

"Yes; to where you've always liked to live."

"Yes; I liked living there," said Valerie, still with vagueness in her
contemplative "yes."

"And still like it."

She seemed to consider. "Things have changed, you know. It was change I
used to want, I looked for it, perhaps mistakenly. Now it has come of
itself. And I feel a great unwillingness to move on again."

The poignant vision of something bruised, dimmed, listless, was with him,
and it was odd to hear himself urging:--"But in the meantime, you, too,
have changed. The whole thing over here, the thing we so care for, isn't
yours. You don't really care about it much, if at all. It doesn't really
please you. It gives you with effort what you can get with ease, over
there, and it must jar on you, often. We are young; crude; all the
over-obvious things that are always said of us; our enthusiasms are too
facile; our standards of achievement, in the things you care for, rather
second-rate; oh, you know well enough what I mean. We are not crystallized
yet into a shape that's really comfortable for a person like you:--perhaps
we never shall be; perhaps I hope that we never shall be. So why shouldn't
you go to a place where you can have all the things you like?"

She listened to him in silence, with, at the end, a slight smile for the
exactitude of his: "Perhaps I hope that we never shall be;"--and she paused
now as if his portrayal of her own wants required consideration. "Perhaps,"
she said at length, "perhaps I never cared so much about all those things."

"Oh, but you do," said Jack with conviction.

"You mean, I suppose, all the things people over here go away so much to
get. No, I don't think so. It was never really that. I don't think"--and
she seemed to be thinking it out for herself as well as for him--"that I've
ever been so conscious of standards--crystallizations--the relative values
and forms of things. What I wanted was freedom. Not that I was ever
oppressed or ill-treated, far from it;--but I was too--uncomfortable. I was
like a bird forced to live like a fish, or perhaps we had better say, like
a fish forced to live like a bird. That was why I went. I couldn't breathe.
And, yes, I like the life over there. It's very easy and gliding; it
protects you from jars; it gives you beauty for the asking;--here we have
to make it as a rule. I like the people, too, and their unconsciousness.
One likes us, you know, Jack, for what is conscious in us--and it's so much
that there's hardly a bit of us that isn't conscious. We know our way all
over ourselves, as it were, and can put all of ourselves into the window if
we want someone else to know us. One often likes them for their
unconsciousness, for all the things behind the window, all the things they
know nothing at all about, the things that are instinctive, background
things. It makes a more peaceful feeling. One can wander about dim rooms,
as it were, and rest in them; one doesn't have to recognize, and respond so
much. Yes, I shall miss it all, in a great many ways. But I like it here,
too. For one thing, there is a great deal more to do."

Jack, in some bewilderment, was grasping at clues. One was that, as he had
long ago learned of her, she was incapable of phrases, even when they were
sincere, incapable of dramatizing herself, even if her situation lent
itself to tragic interpretations. Uncomfortable?--was that all that she
found to say of her life, her suffocating life, among the fishes? She could
put it aside with that. And as for the rest, he realized suddenly, with a
new illumination--at what a late date it was for him to reach it; he, who
had thought that he knew her so well!--that she cared less, in reality, for
all those "things" lacking in the life of her native land than the bulk of
her conscious, anxious countrymen. Cared not enough, his old self of
judgment and moral appraisement would have pronounced. She wasn't
intellectual, nor was she esthetic; that was the funny part of it, about a
person whose whole being diffused a sense of completeness that was like a
perfume. Art, culture, a complicated social life, being on the top of
things, as it were, were not the objects of her concentration. It was
indeed her indifference to them, her independence of them, that made her,
for his wider consciousness, oddly un-American.

In the midst of bewilderment and illumination one thing stood clear, a
trembling joy; he had to make assurance doubly sure. "If you are not going
away, what _will_ you do?"

"I don't know";--he would, once, have rebuked the smile with which she said
it as indolent;--"I wasn't thinking of anything definite, for myself. I'll
watch other people do--you, for instance, Jack. I shall spend most of my
time here in the country; New York is so expensive; I shall garden--wait
till you see what I make of this in a few years' time; I shall look after
Rose and Eddy--at a tactful distance."

"But your wider life? Your many friends, over there?" Jack still protested,
fearing that he saw more clearly than she to what a widow with a tiny,
crippled fortune was consigning herself in this country of the young and
striving. "You need gaiety, brilliancy, big, bright vistas." It was strange
to hear himself urging his thought for her against that inner throb. Again
she gave him her grave, brief smile. "You forget, Jack, that I'm--cured.
I'm quite old enough not to mind giving up."

The warm, consoling assurance was with him, of her presence near his life;
but under it the excitement, the pain, had so risen that he wondered if she
did not read them in his eyes.

The evening was growing late; the sky had turned to a pale, translucent
gold, streaked, over the horizon, by thin, cold, lilac-colored clouds. He
must go, leaving her there, alone, and, in so doing, he would leave
something else behind him forever. For it was now, as the veil fell upon
her, as the evening fell over the wide earth, it was now or never that he
could receive the last illumination. He hardly saw clearly what that might
be; it wavered like a hovering light behind the mist.

He rose and walked up and down the room a little; pausing to look from the
windows at the golden sky; pausing to look, now and then, at her, sitting
there in her long, black dress, vaguely shadowed on the outer light,
smiling, tranquil, yet sad, so sad.

"So, our summer is at an end," he said, turning at last from the window.
"The air has a frosty tang already. I suppose I must be off. I shall not
see you again until New York. I'm glad--I'm glad that you are to be there";
and now he stammered suddenly, a little--"more glad than I can say."

"Thanks, Jack," she answered, her eyes fondly dwelling on him. "You are one
of the things I would not like to leave."

Again he walked up and down, and seemed to hear the steady flow of that
still, deep excitement. Why, above it, should he say silly, meaningless
words, that were like a bridge thrown over it to lead him from her?

"I want to tell you one thing, just one, before I go," he said. He knew
that, with his sudden resolution, his voice had changed and, to quiet
himself, he stood before her and put both hands on the back of a chair that
was between them. He couldn't go on building that bridge. He must dare
something, even if something else he must not dare--unless, unless she let
him. "I must tell you that you are the most enchanting person I have ever
known."

She looked at him quietly, though she was startled, not quite
understanding, and she said a little sadly: "Only that, Jack?"

"Yes, only that, for you, because you don't need the trite, obvious labels
that one affixes to other people. You don't need me to say that you are
good or true or brave;--it's like a delicate seal that comprises and
expresses everything,--the trite things and the strange, lovely
things--when I say that you are enchanting." He held his mind, so
conscious, under the words, of what he must not say, to the intellectual
preoccupation of making her see, at all events, just what the words he
could say meant.

But as his voice rang, tense, vibrant as a tightened cord in the still
room, as his eyes sank into hers, Valerie felt in her own dying youth the
sudden echo to all he dared not say.

She had never seen, quick as she was to see the meaning behind words and
looks. She suspected that he, also, had never seen it clearly till now.

Other claims had dropped from them; the world was gone; they were alone,
his eyes on hers; and between them was the magic of life.

Yes, she had it still, the gift, the compelling charm. His eyes in their
young strength and fear and adoration called to her life, and with a touch,
a look, she could bring to it this renewal and this solace. And, behind her
sorrow, her veil, her relinquishment, Valerie was deeply thrilled.

The thrill went through her, but even while she knew it, it hardly moved
her. No; the relinquishment had been too deep. She had lost forever, in
losing the other. That had been to turn her back on life, or, rather, to
see it turn its back on her, forever. Not without an ugly crash of inner,
twisted discord could she step once more from the place of snow, or hold
out her hand to love.

All his life was before him, but for her--; for her it was finished. And as
she mastered the thrill, as she turned from the vision of what his eyes
besought and promised, a flow of pity, pity for his youth and pain and for
all the long way he was yet to go, filled her, bringing peace, even while
the sweetness of the unsought, undreamed of offering made her smile again,
a trembling smile.

"Dear Jack, thank you," she said.

Suddenly, before her smile, her look, he flushed deeply, taking from her
eyes what his own full meaning had been. Already it was in the past, the
still-born hope; it was dead before he gazed upon it; but he must hear the
death-warrant from her lips, it was not enough to see it, so gentle, so
pitiful, so loving, in her eyes, and he heard himself stammering:--"You--
you haven't anything else you can say to me?"

She had found her answer in a moment, and now indeed she was at the helm,
steering them both past white shores, set in such depths of magical blue,
white shores where sirens sang. Never could they land there, never listen
to the song. And already she seemed to hear it, as if from a far distance,
ringing, sharp and strange with the swiftness of their flight, as she
replied: "Nothing else, dear Jack, except that I wish you were my son."

The enchanted island had sunk below the horizon. They were landed, and on
the safest, sanest, shores. She knew that she had achieved her own place,
and that from it, secure, above him, the veil between them, her smile was
the smile of motherhood. To smile so was to put before him finally the fact
that her enchantment contradicted and helplessly lured him to forget. She
would never forget it now, nor could he. She was Imogen's mother, and she
was old enough to be his.

From her smile, her eyes, common-sense flooded Jack, kind, yet stinging,
too, savoring of a rescue from some hidden danger,--not his--not his--his
was none of the common-sense,--but hers. He might had she let him, have so
dislocated her life.

He was scarlet, stammering. He knew that he hid nothing from her now, that
he didn't want or need to hide anything. Those benign, maternal eyes would
understand. And he smiled, too, but also with a trembling smile, as he
reached out to her hand, holding it tightly and saying, gazing at her:--"I
love you so."

Her hand held his, in farewell now, but her look up at him promised
everything, everything for the future,--except the one now shrouded thing.
"And I love you, dear Jack," she said. "You have taken the place of--almost
everything."

And then, for she saw the tears in his eyes, and knew that his heart was
bleeding, not for himself alone, she rose and took his head between her
hands, and, like a mother, kissed him above his eyes.

* * * * *

When he had left her,--and they said no further word,--Valerie did not
again relapse into a despondent attitude.

The sky was like a deep rose, soft, dim, dying, and the color of the
afterglow filled the room.

Standing at the window she breathed in the keen, sweet air, and looked from
the dying day down to her garden.

She had watched Jack disappear among the trees, waving to him, and her
heart followed his aching heart with comprehending pity. But, from her
conquest of the thrill, a clear, contemplative insight was left with her,
so that, looking out over the lives she was to watch, she felt herself, for
all her sadness, a merry, if a serious fate, mingling the threads of
others' fortunes with a benignant hand.

Imogen's threads had snapped off very sharply. Imogen would be the better
pleased that the Surrey cottage should know her no more. The pang for the
wrecking of all maternal hope passed strangely into a deeper pang for all
that the Surrey cottage stood for in her life, all the things that she had
left to come to Imogen. She remembered. And, for a moment, the old vortex
of whirling anguish almost engulfed her. Only long years could deaden the
pang of that parting. She would not dwell on that. Eddy and Rose; to turn
to them was to feel almost gay. Jack and Mary;--yes, on these last names
her thoughts lingered and her gaze for them held tender presages. That must
be.

Jack would not know how her maternal solicitude was to encompass him and
mold his way. If the benignant fate saw clearly, Jack and Mary were to
marry. Strange that it should not be from anything of her own that the
deepest call upon her fostering tenderness came. She wasn't needed by
anything of her own. This was the tragedy of her life that, more than youth
passed and love renounced, seemed to drift snows upon her.

But, beyond the personal pang and failure, she could look down at her
garden and out at the quiet, evening vistas. The very flowers seemed to
smile gentle promises to her, and to murmur that, after all, rather than
bitterness, failure was to bring humble peace.

Leaning her head against the window, where in the breeze the curtain softly
flapped, she looked out at the tranquil twilight, contented to be sad.

"I will have friends with me," she said to herself; "I will garden and
learn a new language. I will read a great many books." And, with a sense of
happy daring, not rebuked by reason, she could add, thinking of the mingled
threads:--"I will have them often here to stay with me, and, perhaps, they
will let me spoil the babies."

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