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  • 1907
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the seeing of her own personality as but an instrument in the service of good–these were the chief words of the gospel. Life in its realest sense meant only this dedication. To serve, to love, to be the truth. Her eyes on her father’s pictured eyes, Imogen smiled into them, promising him and herself that she would not fail.

VII

It was in the library next morning that Valerie asked Imogen to join her, and the girl, who had come into the room with her light, soft step, paused to kiss her mother’s forehead before going to the opposite seat.

“Deep in ways and means, mamma dear?” she asked her. “Why, you are quite a business woman.” “Quite,” Valerie replied. “I have been going over things with Mr. Haliwell, you know.” She smiled thoughtfully at Imogen, preoccupied, as the girl could see, by what she had to say.

Imogen was slightly ruffled by the flavor of assurance that she felt in her mother, as of someone who, after gently and vaguely fumbling about for a clue to her own meaning in new conditions, had suddenly found something to which she held very firmly. Imogen was rejoiced for her that she should find a field of real usefulness-were it only that of housekeeping and seeing to weekly bills; but there was certainly a touch of the inappropriate, perhaps of the grotesque, in any assumption on her mother’s part of maturity and competence. She therefore smiled back at her with much the same tolerantly interested smile that a parent might bestow on a child’s brick-building of a castle.

“I’m so glad that you have that to give yourself to, mama dear,” she said. “You shall most certainly be our business woman and add figures and keep an eye on investment to your heart’s content. I know absolutely nothing of the technical side of money–I’ve thought of it only as an instrument, a responsibility, a power given me in trust for others.”

Valerie, whose warmth of tint and softness of outline seemed dimmed and sharpened, as though by a controlled anxiety, glanced at her daughter, gravely and a little timidly. And as, in silence, she lightly dotted her pen over the paper under her hand, uncertain, apparently, with what words to approach the subject, it was Imogen, again, who spoke, kindly, but with a touch of impatience.

“We mustn’t be too long over our talk, dear. I must meet Miss Bocock at twelve.”

“Miss Bocock?” Valerie was vague. “Have I met her?”

“Not yet. She is a _protegee_ of mine–English–a Newnham woman–a folk-lorist. I heard of her from some Boston friends, read her books, and induced her to come over and lecture to us this winter. We are arranging about the lectures now. I’ve got up a big class for her–when I say ‘I,’ I mean, of course, with the help of all my dear, good friends who are always so ready to back me up in my undertakings. She is an immensely interesting woman; ugly, dresses tastelessly; but one doesn’t think of that when one is listening to her. She has a wonderful mind; strong, disciplined, stimulating. I’m very happy that I’ve been able to give America to her and her to America.”

“She must be very interesting,” said Valerie. “I shall like hearing her. We will get through our business as soon as possible so that you may keep your appointment.” And now, after this digression, she seemed to find it easier to plunge. “You knew that your father had left very little money, Imogen.”

Imogen, her hands lightly folded in her lap, sat across the table, all mild attention.

“No, I didn’t, mama. We never talked about money, he and I.”

“No; still–you spent it.”

“Papa considered himself only a steward for what he had. He used his money, he did not hoard it, mama dear. Indeed, I know that his feeling against accumulations of capital, against all private property, unless used for the benefit of all, was very strong.”

“Yes,” said Valerie, after a slight pause, in which she did not raise her eyes from the paper where her pen now drew a few neat lines. “Yes. But he has left very little for Eddy, very little for you; it was that I was thinking of.”

At this Imogen’s face from gentle grew very grave.

“Mama dear, I don’t think that you and papa would have agreed about the upbringing of a man. You have the European standpoint; we don’t hold with that over here. We believe in equipping the man, giving him power for independence, and we expect him to make his own way. Papa would rather have had Eddy work on the roads for his bread than turn him into a _faineant_.”

Valerie drew her lines into a square before saying, “I, you know, with Mr. Haliwell, am one of your trustees. He tells me that your father gave you a great deal.”

“Whatever I asked. He had perfect trust in me. Our aims were the same.”

“And how did you spend it? Don’t imagine that I’m finding fault.”

“Oh, I know that you couldn’t well do that!” said Imogen with a smile a little bitter. “I spent very little on myself.” And she continued, with somewhat the manner of humoring an exacting child: “You see, I helped a great many people; I sent two girls to college; I sent a boy–such a dear, fine boy–for three years’ art-study in Paris; he is getting on so well. There is my girls’ club on the East side, my girls’ club in Vermont; there is the Crippled Children’s Home,–quite numberless charities I’m interested in. It’s been one thing after another, money has not lacked,–but time has, to answer all the claims upon me. And then,” here Imogen smiled again, “I believe in the claims of the self, too, when they are disciplined and harmonized into a larger experience. There has been music to keep up; friends to see and to make things nice for; flowers to send to sick friends; concerts to send poor friends to; dinners and lunches to give so that friends may meet–all the thousand and one little things that a large, rich life demands of one.”

“Yes, yes,” said Valerie, who had nodded at intervals during the list. “I quite see all that. You are a dear, generous child and love to give pleasure; and your father refused you nothing. It’s my fault, too. My more mercenary mind should have been near to keep watch. Because, as a, result, there’s very little, dear, very, very little.”

“Oh, your being here would not have changed our ideas as to the right way to spend money, mama. Don’t blame yourself for that. We should have bled _you_, too!”

“Oh, no, you wouldn’t,” Valerie said quickly. “I’ve too much of the instinctive, selfish mother-thing in me to have allowed myself to be bled for cripples and clubs and artistic boys. I don’t care about them a bit compared to you and Eddy. But this is all beside the mark. The question now is, What are we to do? Because that generous, expensive life of yours has come to an end, for the present at all events.”

Imogen at this sat silent for some moments, fixing eyes of deep, and somewhat confused, cogitation upon her mother’s face.

“Why–but–I supposed that you _had_ minded for Eddy and me, mama,” she said at last.

“I have very little money, Imogen.”

Imogen hesitated, blushing a little, before saying, “Surely you were quite rich when papa married you.”

“Hardly rich; but, yes, quite well off.”

“And you spent it all–on yourself?”

Valerie’s color, too, had faintly risen. “Not so much on myself, Imogen, though I wish now that I had been more economical; but I was ignorant of your father’s rather reckless expenditure. In the first years of my marriage, before the selfish mother-thing was developed in me, I handed a good deal of my capital over to him, for his work, his various projects; in order to leave him as free for these projects as possible, I educated you and Eddy–that, too, came out of my capital. And the building of the house in Vermont swallowed a good deal of money.”

Imogen’s blush had deepened. “Of course,” she said, “there is no more reckless expenditure possible–since you use the term, mama–than keeping up two establishments for one family; that, of course, was your own choice. But, putting that aside, you must surely, still, have a good deal left. See how you live; see how you are taken care of, with a maid,–I’ve never had a maid, papa, as you know, thought them self-indulgences,–see how you dress,” she cast a glance upon the refinements of her mother’s black.

“How I dress, my child! May I ask what that dress you have on cost you?”

“I believe only in getting the best. This, for the best, was inexpensive. One hundred dollars.”

“Twenty pounds,” Valerie translated, as if to impress the sum more fully on her mind. “I know that clothes over here are ruinous. Now mine cost only eight pounds and was made by a very little woman in London.”

Imogen cast another glance, now of some helpless wonder, at the dress.

“Of course you are so clever about such things; I shouldn’t wish to spend my thought–and I couldn’t spend my time–on clothes. And then the standard of wages is so scandalously low in Europe; I confess that I would rather not profit by it.”

“I am a very economical woman, Imogen,” said Valerie, with some briskness of utterance. “My cottage in Surrey costs me fifty pounds a year. I keep two maids, my own maid, a cook, a gardener; there’s a pony and trap and a stable-boy. I have friends with me constantly and pay a good many visits. Yet my income is only eight hundred pounds a year.”

“Eight hundred–four thousand dollars,” Imogen translated, a note of sharp alarm in her voice. “That, of course, would not be nearly enough for all of us.”

“Not living as you have, certainly, dear.”

“But papa? Surely papa has left something! He must have made money at his legal practice.”

“Never much. His profession was always a by-issue with him. I find that his affairs are a good deal involved; when all the encumbrances are cleared off, we think, Mr. Haliwell and I, that we may secure an amount that will bring our whole income to about five thousand dollars a year. If we go on living in New York it will require the greatest care to be comfortable on that. We must find a flat somewhere, unless you cared to live in England, where we could be very comfortable indeed, without effort, on what we have.”

Imogen was keeping a quiet face, but her mother, with a pang of helpless pity and compunction, saw tears near the surface, and that, to control them, she fixed herself on the meaning of the last words. “Live out of my own country! Never!”

“No, dear, I didn’t think that you would want to; I didn’t want it for you, either; I only suggested it so that you might see clearly just where we stand, and in case you might prefer it, with our limited means.”

Imogen’s next words broke out even more vehemently. “I can’t leave this house! I _can’t_! It is my home.” The tears ran down her face.

“My poor darling!” her mother exclaimed. She rose quickly and came round the table to her, putting her arm around her and trying to draw her near.

But Imogen, covering her eyes with one hand, held her off. “It’s wrong. It’s unfair. I should have been told before.”

“Imogen, _I_ did not know. I was not admitted to your father’s confidence. I used to speak to you sometimes, you must remember, about being careful.”

“I never thought about it. I thought he made a great deal–I thought you had a great deal of money,” Imogen sobbed.

“It _is_ my fault, in one sense, I know,” her mother said, still standing beside her, her hand on her shoulder. “If I had been here I could have prevented some of it. But–it has seemed so inevitable.” The tears rose in Valerie’s eyes also; she looked away to conquer them. “Don’t blame me too much, dear. I shall try to do my best now. And then, after all, it’s not of such tragic importance, is it? We can be very happy with what we have.”

Imogen wept on: “Leave my home!”

“There, there. Don’t cry so. We won’t leave it. We will manage somehow. We will stay on here, for a time at least–until you marry, Imogen. You will probably marry,” and Valerie attempted a softly rallying smile, “before so very long.”

But the attempt was an unfortunately timed one. “Oh, mama! don’t–don’t–bring your horrible European point of view into _that_, too!” cried Imogen.

“What point of view? Indeed, indeed, dear, I didn’t mean to hurt you, to be indiscreet–“

“The economic, materialistic, worldly point of view–that money problems can be solved by a thing that is sacred, sacred!” Imogen passionately declared, her face still hidden.

Her mother now guessed that the self-abandonment was over and that, with recovered control, she found it difficult to pick up her usual dignity. The insight added to her tenderness. She touched the girl’s hair softly, said, in a soothing voice, that she had meant nothing, nothing gross or unfeeling, and, seeing that her nearness was not, at the moment, welcome, returned to her own place at the other end of the table.

Imogen now dried her eyes. In the consternation that her mother’s statements had caused her there had, indeed, almost at once, arisen the consoling figure of Jack Pennington, and she did not know whether she were the more humiliated by her own grief, for such a mercenary cause, or by this stilling of it, this swift realization that the cramped life need last no longer, for herself, than she chose. To feel so keenly the need of escape was to feel herself imprisoned by the new conditions; for never, never for one moment, must the need of escape weigh with her in her decision as to Jack’s place in her life. She must accept the burden, not knowing that it would ever be lifted, and with this acceptance the sense of humiliation left her, so that she could more clearly see that she had had a right to her dismay. Her crippled life would hurt not only herself, but all that she meant to others–her beneficence, her radiance, her loving power; so hurt it, that, for one dark moment, had come just a dart of severity toward her father. The memory of her mother’s implied criticism had repulsed it; dear, wonderful, transcendentalist, she must be worthy of him and not allow her thoughts, in their coward panic, to sink to the mother’s level. This was the deepest call upon her courage that had ever come to her. Calls to courage were the very breath of the spiritual life. Imogen lifted her heart to the realm of spirit, where strength was to be found, and, though her mother, with those implied criticisms, had pierced her, she could now, with her recovered tranquility of soul, be very patient with her. In a voice slightly muffled and uncertain, but very gentle, she said that she thought it best to live on in the dear home. “We must retrench in other places, mama. I would rather give up almost anything than this. _He_ is here to me.” Her tears rose again, but they were no longer tears of bitterness. “It would be like leaving him.”

“Yes, dear, yes; that shall be as you wish,” said Valerie, who was deeply considering what these retrenchments should be. She, too, was knowing a qualm of humiliation over self-revelations. She had not expected that it would be really so painful, in such trivial matters, to adjust herself to the most ordinary maternal sacrifices. It only showed her the more plainly how fatal, how almost fatal, it was to the right impulses, to live away from family ties; so that at their first pressure upon her, in a place that sharply pinched, she found herself rueful.

For the first retrenchment, of course, must be the sending back to England of her dear, staunch Felkin, who had taken such care of her for so many years. Her heart was heavy with the thought. She was very fond of Felkin, and to part with her would be, in a chill, almost an ominous way, like parting with the last link that bound her to “over there.” Besides,–Valerie was a luxurious woman,–unpleasant visions went through her mind of mud to be brushed off and braid to be put on the bottoms of skirts; stockings to darn-she was sure that it was loathsome to darn stockings; buttons to keep in their places; all the thousand and one little rudiments of life, to which one had never had to give a thought, looming, suddenly, in the foreground of one’s consciousness. And how very tiresome to do one’s own hair. Well, it couldn’t be helped. She accepted the accompanying humiliation, finding no refuge in Imogen’s spiritual consolations.

“Eddy leaves Harvard this spring and goes into Mr. Haliwell’s office. He will live with us here, then. And we can be very economical about food and clothes; I can help little dressmakers with yours, you know,” she said, smiling at her child.

“Everything, mama, everything must be done, rather than leave this house.”

“We mustn’t let the girls’ clubs suffer, either,” Valerie attempted further to lighten the other’s gloomy resolution. “That’s one of the first claims.”

“I must balance all claims, with justice. I have many other calls upon me, dear, and it will need earnest thought to know which to eliminate.”

“Well, the ones you care about most are the ones we’ll try to fit in.”

“My caring is not the standard, mama. The ones that need me most are the ones I shall fit in.”

Imogen rose, drawing a long, sighing breath. Under her new and heavy burden, her mother, in these suggestions for the disposal of her life, was glib, assured. But the necessity for tenderness and forbearance was strongly with her. She went round the table to Valerie, pressed her head to her breast and kissed her forehead, saying, “Forgive me if I have seemed hard, darling.”

“No, dear, no; I quite understood all you felt,” Valerie said, returning the kiss. But, after Imogen had left her, she sat for a long time, very still, her hand only moving, as she traced squares and circles on her paper.

VIII

Jack thought that he had never seen Imogen looking graver than on that night when he came again. Her face seemed calm only because she so compressed and controlled all sorts of agitating things. Her mother was with her in the lamp-lit library and he guessed already that, in any case, Imogen, before her mother, would rarely show gaiety and playfulness. Gaiety and playfulness would seem to condone the fact that her mother found so little need of help in “bearing” the burden of her regret and of her self-reproach. But, allowing for that fact, Imogen’s gravity was more than negative. It confronted him like a solemn finger laid on firmly patient lips; he felt it dwell upon him like solemn eyes while he shook hands with Mrs. Upton, whom he had not seen since the morning of her arrival.

Mrs. Upton, too, was grave, after a fashion; but her whole demeanor might be decidedly irritating to a consciousness so burdened with a sense of change as Imogen ‘a evidently was. Even before that finger, those eyes, into which he had symbolized Imogen’s manner, Mrs. Upton’s gravity could break into a smile quite undisturbed, apparently, by any inappropriateness. She sat near the lamp crocheting; soft, white wool sliding through her fingers and wave after wave of cloudy substance lengthening a tiny baby’s jacket, so very small a jacket that Jack surmised it to be a gift for an expectant mother. He further surmised that Mrs. Upton would be very nice to expectant mothers; that they would like to have her abound.

Mrs. Upton would not curb her smile on account of Imogen’s manner, nor would she recognize it to the extent of tacitly excluding her from the conversation. She seemed, indeed, to pass him on, in all she said, to Imogen, and Jack, once more, found his situation between them a little difficult, for if Mrs. Upton passed him on, Imogen was in no hurry to receive him. He had, once or twice, the sensation of being stranded, and it was always Mrs. Upton who felt his need and who pushed him off into the ease of fresh questions.

He was going back to Boston the next day and asked Imogen if he could take any message to Mary Osborne.

“Thank you, Jack,” said Imogen, “but I write to Mary, always, twice a week. She depends on my letters.”

“When is she coming to you again?”

“I am afraid she is not to come at all, now.”

“You’re not going away?” the young man asked sharply, for her voice of sad acceptance implied something quite as sorrowful.

“Oh, no!” Imogen answered, “but mama does not feel that I can have my friend here now.”

Jack, stranded indeed, looked his discomfort and, glancing at Mrs. Upton, he saw it echoed, though with, a veiled echo. She laid down her work; she looked at her daughter as though to probe the significance of her speech, and, not finding her clue, she sat rather helplessly silent.

“Well,” said Jack, with attempted lightness, “I hope that I’m not exiled, too.”

“Oh, Jack, how can you!” said Imogen. “It is only that we have discovered that we are very, very poor, and one’s hospitable impulses are shackled. Mama has been so brave about it, and I don’t want to put any burdens upon her, especially burdens that would be so uncongenial to her as dear, funny Mary. Mama could hardly care for that typical New England thing. Don’t mind Jack, mama; he is such a near friend that I can talk quite frankly before him.”

For Mrs. Upton was now gathering up her innocent work, preparatory, it was evident, to departure.

“You are not displeased, dear!” Imogen protested as she rose, not angry, not injured–Jack was trying to make it out–but full of a soft withdrawal. “Please don’t go. I so want you and Jack to see something of each other.”

“I will come back presently,” said Mrs. Upton. And so she left them. Jack’s thin face had flushed.

“She means that _she_ won’t talk quite frankly before you, you see,” said Imogen. “Don’t mind, dear Jack, she is full of these foolish little conventionalities; she cares so tremendously about the forms of things; I simply pay no attention; that’s the best way. But it’s quite true, Jack; I don’t know that I can afford to have my friends come and stay with me any more. Apparently mama and papa, in their so different ways, have been very extravagant; and I, too, Jack, have been extravagant. I never knew that I mustn’t be. The money was given to me as I asked for it–and there were so many, so many claims,–oh, I can’t say that I’m sorry that it is gone as it went. ‘But now that we are very poor, I want it to be my pleasures, rather than hers, that are cut off; she depends so upon her pleasures, her comforts. She depends more upon her maid, for instance, than I do even upon my friends. To go without Mary this winter will be hard, of course, but our love is founded on deeper things than seeing and speaking; and mama would feel it tragic, I’m quite sure, to have to do up her own hair.”

“Good heaven, my dear Imogen! if you are so poor, surely she can learn to do up her own hair!” Jack burst out, the more vehemently from the fact that Mrs. Upton’s unprotesting, unexplanatory departure had, to his own consciousness, involved him with Imogen in a companionship of crudity and inappropriateness. She would not interfere with their frankness, but she would not be frank with them. She didn’t care a penny for what his impression of her might be. Imogen might fit as many responsibilities upon her shoulders as she liked and, with her long training in a school of reticences and composures, she would remain placid and indifferent. So Jack worked it out, and he resented, for Imogen and for himself, such tact and such evasion. He wished that they had been more crude, more inappropriate. Thank heaven for crudeness if morality as opposed to manners made one crude. He entrenched himself in that morality now, open-eyed to its seeming priggishness, to say, “And it’s a bigger question than that of her pleasures and yours, Imogen. It’s a question of right and wrong. Mary needs you. Your mother ought not to keep a maid if other people’s needs are to be sacrificed to her luxuries.”

Imogen was looking thoughtfully into the fire, her calmness now not the result of mastery; her own serene assurance was with her.

“I’ve thought of all that, Jack; I’ve weighed it, and though I feel it, as you do, a question of right and wrong, I don’t feel that I can force it upon her. It would be like taking its favorite doll from a child. She is trying, I do believe, to atone; she is trying to do her duty by making, as it were, _une acte de presence_; one wants to be very gentle with her; one doesn’t want to make things more difficult than they must already seem. Poor, dear little mama. But as for me, Jack, it’s more than pleasures that I have to give up. I have to say no to some of those claims that I’ve given my life to. It’s like cutting into my heart to do it.”

She turned away her head to hide the quiet tears that rose involuntarily, and by the sight of her noble distress, by the realization, too, of such magnanimity toward the trivial little mother, Jack’s inner emotion was pushed, suddenly, past all the bolts and barriers. Turning a little pale, he leaned forward and took her hand, stammering as he said: “Dear, dearest Imogen, you know–you know what I want to ask–whenever you will let me speak; you know the right I want to claim–“

It had come, the moment of avowal; but they had glided so quietly upon it that he felt himself unprepared for his own declaration. It wad Imogen’s tranquil acceptance, rather than his own eagerness, that made the situation seem real.

“I know, dear Jack, of course I know,” she said. “It has been a deep, a peaceful joy for a long time to feel that I was first with you. Let it rest there, for the present, dear Jack.”

“I’ve not made anything less joyful or less peaceful for you by speaking?”

“No, no, dear. It’s only that I couldn’t think of it, for some time yet.”

“You promise me that, meanwhile, you will think of me, as your friend, just as happily as before?”

“Just as happily, dear Jack; I could never, as long as you are you and I am I, think of you in any other way.” And she went on, with her tranquil radiance of aspect, “I have always meant, you know, to make something of my life before I chose what to do with it.”

Jack, too, thought Imogen’s life a flower so precious that it must be placed where it could best bloom; but, feeling in her dispassionateness a hurt to his hope that it would best bloom in his care, he asked: “Mightn’t the making something of it come after the choice, dear?”

Very clear as to what was her own meaning, Imogen shook her lovely, unconfused head. “No, only the real need could rightly choose, and one can only know the real need when one has made the real self.”

These were Jack’s own views, but, hearing them from her lips, they chilled.

“It seems to me that your self, already, is very real,” he said, smiling a little ruefully. And Imogen now, though firm, was very wonderful, for, leaning to him, she put for a moment her hand on his and said, smiling back with the tranquil tenderness: “Not yet, not quite yet, Jack; but we trust each other’s truth, and we can’t but trust,–I do, dear Jack, with all my heart,–that it can never part us.”

He kissed her hand at that, and promised to trust and to be patient, and Imogen presently lifted matters back into their accustomed place, saying that he must help her with her project for building a country home for her crippled children. She had laid the papers before him and they were deep in ways and means when a sharp, imperious scratching at the door interrupted them.

Imogen’s face, as she raised it, showed a touch of weary impatience. “Mamma’s dog,” she said. “He can’t find her. Let him scratch. He will go away when no one answers.”

“Oh, let’s satisfy him that she isn’t here,” said Jack, who was full of a mild, though alien, consideration for animals.

“Can you feel any fondness for such wisps of sentimentality and greediness as that?” Imogen asked, as the tiny _griffon_ darted into the room and ran about, sniffing with interrogative anxiety.

“Not fondness, perhaps, but amused liking.”

“There, now you see he will whine and bark to be let out again. He is as arrogant and as troublesome as a spoilt child.”

“I’ll hold him until she comes,” said Jack. “I say, he is a nice little beast–full of gratitude; see him lick my hand.” He had picked up the dog and come back to her.

“I really disapprove of such absurd creatures,” said Imogen. “Their very existence seems a wrong to themselves and to the world.”

“Well, I don’t know.” Theoretically Jack agreed with her as to the extravagant folly of such morsels of frivolity; but, holding the _griffon_ as he was, meeting its merry, yet melancholy, eyes, evading its affectionate, caressing leaps toward his cheek, he couldn’t echo her reasonable rigor. “They take something the place of flowers in life, I suppose.”

“What takes the place of flowers?” Mrs. Upton asked. She had come in while they spoke and her tone of kind, mild inquiry slightly soothed Jack’s ruffled sensibilities.

“This,” said he, holding out her possession to her.

“Oh, Tison! How good of you to take care of him. He was looking for me, poor pet.”

“Imogen was wondering as to the uses of such creatures and I placed them in the decorative category,” Jack went on, determined to hold his own firmly against any unjustifiable claims of either Tison or his mistress. He accused himself of a tendency to soften under her glance when it was so kindly and so consciously bent upon him. Her indifference cut him and made him hostile, and both softness and hostility were, as he told himself, symptoms of a silly sensitiveness. The proper attitude was one of firmness and humor.

“I am afraid that you don’t care for dogs,” Mrs. Upton said. She had gone back to her seat, taking up her work and passing her hand over Tison’s silky back as he established himself in her lap.

“Oh yes, I do; I care for flowers, too,” said Jack, folding his arms and leaning back against the table, while Imogen sat before her papers, observant of the little encounter.

“But they are not at all in the same category. And surely,” Mrs. Upton continued, smiling up at him, “one doesn’t justify one’s fondness for a creature by its uses.”

“I think one really must, you know,” our ethical young man objected, feeling that he must grasp his latent severity when Mrs. Upton’s vague sweetness of regard was affecting him somewhat as her dog’s caressing little tongue had done. “If a fondness is one we have a right to, we can justify it,–and it can only be justified by its utility, actual or potential, to the world we are a part of.”

Mrs. Upton continued to smile as though she did not suspect him of wishing to be taken seriously. “One doesn’t reason like that before one allows oneself to become fond.”

“There are lots of things we must reason about to get rid of,” Jack smiled back.

“That sounds very chilly and uncomfortable. Besides, something loving, pretty, responsive–something that one can make very happy–is useful to one.”

“But only that,” Imogen now intervened, coming to her friend’s assistance with decision. “It serves only one’s own pleasure;–that is its only use. And when I think, mama darling, of all the cold, hungry, unhappy children in this great town to-night,–of all the suffering children, such as those that Jack and I have been trying to help,–I can’t but feel that your petted little dog there robs some one.”

Mrs. Upton, looking down at her dog, now asleep in a profound content, continued to stroke him in silence.

Jack felt that Imogen’s tone was perhaps a little too rigorous for the occasion. “Not that we want you to turn Tison out into the streets,” he said jocosely.

“No; you mustn’t ask that of me,” Valerie answered, her tone less light than before. “It seems to me that there is a place for dear unreasonable things in the world. All that Tison is made for is to be petted. A child is a different problem.”

“And a problem that it needs all our time, all our strength, all our love and faith to deal with,” Imogen returned, with gentle sadness. “You _are_ robbing some one, mama dear.”

“Apparently we are a naughty couple, you and I, Tison,” Mrs. Upton said, “but I am too old and you too eternally young to mend.”

She had begun to crochet again; but, though she resumed all her lightness, her mildness, Jack fancied that she was a little angry.

When he was gone, Mrs. Upton said, looking up at her daughter: “Of course you must have Mary Osborne to stay with you, Imogen,”

Imogen had gone to the fire and was gazing into it. She was full of a deep contentment. By her attitude toward Jack this evening, her reception of his avowal, she had completely vindicated herself. Peace of mind was impossible to Imogen unless her conscience were clear of any cloud, and now the morning’s humiliating fear was more than atoned for. She was not the woman to clutch at safety when pain threatened; she had spoken to him exactly as she would have spoken yesterday, before knowing that she was poor. And, under this satisfaction, was the serene gladness of knowing him so surely hers.

Her face, as she turned it toward her mother, adjusted itself to a task of loving severity. “I cannot think of having her, mama.”

“Why not? She will add almost nothing to our expenses. I never for a moment dreamed of your not having her. I don’t know why you thought it my wish.”

Imogen looked steadily at her: “Not your wish, mama? After what you told me this morning?”

“I only said that we must be economical and careful.”

“To have one’s friends to stay with one is a luxury, is not to be economical and careful. I don’t forget what you said of my expensive mode of life, of my clothes–a reproof that I am very sure was well deserved; I should not have been so thoughtless. But it is not fair, mama, really it is not fair–you must see that–to reproach me, and my father–by implication, even if not openly–with our reckless charities, and then refuse to take the responsibility for my awakening.”

Imogen, though she spoke with emotion, spoke without haste. Her mother sat with downcast eyes, working on, and a deep color rose to her cheeks.

“I do want things to be open and honest between us, mama,” Imogen went on. “We are so very different in temperament, in outlook, in conviction, that to be happy together we must be very true with each other. I want you always to say just what you mean, so that I may understand what you really want of me and may clearly see whether I can do it or not. I have such a horror of any ambiguity in human relations, I believe so in the most perfect truth.”

Valerie was still silent for some moments after this. When she did speak it was only of the practical matter that they had begun with. “I do want you to have your friends with you, Imogen. It will not be a luxury. I will see that we can afford it.”

“I shall be very, very glad of that, dear. I wish I had understood before. You see, just now, before Jack, I felt that you were hurt, displeased, by my inference from our talk this morning. You made me feel by your whole manner that you found me graceless, tasteless, to blame in some way–perhaps for speaking about it to Jack. Jack is very near me, mama.”

“But not near me.”

“Ah, you made me feel that, too; and that you reproached me with having, as it were, forced an intimacy upon you.”

Valerie was drawing her dark brows together, as though her clue had indeed escaped her. Imogen’s mind slipped from link to link of the trivial, yet significant, matter with an ease and certainty of purpose that was like the movement of her own sleek needle, drawing loop after loop of wool into a pattern; but what Imogen’s pattern was she could hardly tell. She abandoned the wish to make clear her own interpretation, looking up presently with a faint smile. “I’m sorry, dear. I meant nothing of all that, I assure you. And as to ‘Jack,’ it was only that I did not care to seem to justify myself before him–at your expense it might seem.”

“Oh, mama dear!” Imogen laughed out. “You thought me so wrong, then, that you were afraid of harming his devotion to me by letting him see how very wrong it was! Jack’s devotion is very clear-sighted. It’s a devotion that, if it saw wrongs in me, would only ask to show them to me, too, and to stand shoulder to shoulder with me in fighting them.”

“He must be a remarkable young man,” said Valerie, quite without irony.

“He is like most _real_ people in this country, mama,” said Imogen, on a graver note. “We have, I think, evolved a new standard of devotion. We don’t want to have dexterous mamas throwing powder in the eyes of the men who care for us and sacrificing their very conception of right on the altar of false maternal duty. The duty we owe to any one _is_ our truth. There is no higher duty than that. Had I been as ungenerous, as unkind, as you, I’m afraid, imagined me this evening, it would still have been your duty, to him, to me, to bring the truth fearlessly to the light. I would have been amused, hadn’t I been so hurt, to see you, as you fancied, shielding me! Please never forget, dear, in the future, that Jack and I are truth-lovers.”

Looking slightly bewildered by this cascade of smooth fluency, Valerie, still with her deepened color, here murmured that she, too, cared for the truth, but the current bore her on. “I don’t think you _see_ it, mama, else you could hardly have hurt me so.”

“Did I hurt you so?”

“Why, mama, don’t you imagine that I am made of flesh and blood? It was dreadful to me, your leaving me like that, with the situation on my hands.”

Valerie, after another little silence, now repeated, “I’m sorry, dear,” and, as if accepting contrition, Imogen stooped and kissed her tenderly.

IX

Mary’s visit took place about six weeks later, when Jack Pennington was again in New York, and Mrs. Wake, returned from Europe, had been for some time established in her little flat not very far away in Washington Square.

The retrenchments in the Upton household had taken place and Mary found her friend putting her shoulder to the wheel with melancholy courage. The keeping up of old beneficences meant redoubled labor and, as she said to Mary, with the smile that Mary found so wonderful: “It seems to me now that whenever I put my hand out to help, it gets caught and pinched.” Mary, helper and admirer, said to Jack that the way in which Imogen had gathered up her threads, allowing hardly one to snap, was too beautiful. These young people, like the minor characters in a play, met often in the drawing-room while Imogen was busy up-stairs or gone out upon some important errand. Just now, Miss Bocock’s lectures having been set going, the organization of a performance to be given for the crippled children’s country home was engaging all her time. Tableaux from the Greek drama had been fixed on, the Pottses were full of eagerness, and Jack had been pressed into service as stage-manager. The distribution of roles, the grouping of the pictures, the dressing and the scenery were in his hands.

“It’s really extraordinary, the way in which, amidst her grief, she goes through all this business, all this organization, getting people together for her committee, securing the theater,” said Mary. “Isn’t it too bad that she can’t be in the tableaux herself? She would have been the loveliest of all.”

Jack, rather weary, after an encounter with a band of dissatisfied performers in the library, said: “One could have put one’s heart into making an Antigone of her; that’s what I wanted–the filial Antigone, leading Oedipus through the olive groves of Colonus. It’s bitter, instead of that, to have to rig Mrs. Scott out as Cassandra; will you believe it, Mary, she insists on being Cassandra–with that figure, that nose! And she has fixed her heart on the scene where Cassandra stands in the car outside the house of Agamemnon. She fancies that she is a tragic, ominous type.”

“She has nice arms, you know,” said the kindly Mary.

“Don’t I know!” said Jack. “Well, it’s through them that I shall circumvent her. Her arms shall be fully displayed and her face turned away from the audience.”

“Jack, dear, you mustn’t be spiteful,” Mary shook her head a little at him. “I’ve thought that I felt just a touch of–of, well–flippancy in you once or twice lately. You mustn’t deceive poor Mrs. Scott. It’s that that is so wonderful about Imogen. I really believe that she could make her give up the part, if she set herself to it; she might even tell her that her nose was too snub for it–and she would not wound her. It’s extraordinary her power over people. They feel, I think, the tenderness, the disinterestedness, that lies beneath the truth.”

“I suppose there’s no hope of persuading her to be Antigone?”

“Don’t suggest it again, Jack. The idea hurt her so.”

“I won’t. I understand. When is Rose coming?”

“In a day or two. She is to spend the rest of the winter with the Langleys. What do you think of for her?”

“Helen appearing between the soldiers, before Hecuba and Menelaus. I only wish that Imogen had more influence over Rose. Your theory about her power doesn’t hold good there.”

“Ah, even there, I don’t give up hope. Rose doesn’t really know Imogen. And then Rose is a child in many ways, a dear, but a spoiled, child.”

“What do you think of Mrs. Upton, now that you see something of her?” Jack asked abruptly.

“She is very sweet and kind, Jack. She is working so hard for all of us. She is going to make my robe. She is addressing envelopes now–and you know how dull that is. I am sure I used to misjudge her. But, she is very queer, Jack.”

“Queer? In what way queer?” Jack asked, placing himself on the sofa, his legs stretched out before him, his hands in his pockets.

“I hardly know how to express it. She is so light, yet so deep; and I can’t make out why or where she is deep; it’s there that the queerness comes in. I feel it in her smile, the way she looks at you; I believe I feel it more than she does. She doesn’t know she’s deep.”

“Not really found herself yet, you think?” Jack questioned; the phrase was one often in use between these young people.

Mary mused. “Somehow that doesn’t apply to her–I don’t believe she’ll ever look for herself.”

“You think it’s you she finds,” Jack suggested; voicing a dim suspicion that had come to him once or twice of late.

“What do you mean, exactly, Jack?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” he laughed a little. “So you like her?” he questioned.

“I think I do; against my judgment, against my will, as it were. But that doesn’t imply that one approves of her.”

“Why not?”

“Why, Jack, you know the way _you_ felt about it, the day you and I and Rose talked it over.”

“But we hadn’t seen her then. What I want to know is just what _you_ feel, now that you have seen her.”

Mary had another conscientious pause. “How can one approve of her while Imogen is there?” she said at last.

“You mean that Imogen makes one remember everything?”

“Yes. And Imogen is everything she isn’t.”

“So that, by contrast, she loses.”

“Yes, and do you know, Jack,” Mary lowered her voice while she glanced up at Mrs. Upton’s portrait, “I can hardly believe that she has suffered, really suffered, about him, at all. She is so unlike a widow.”

“I suppose she felt herself a widow long ago.”

“She had no right to feel it, Jack. His death should cast a deeper shadow on her.”

As Jack, shamefully, could see Mr. Upton as shadow removed, he only said, after a slight pause: “Perhaps that’s another of the things she doesn’t obviously show–suffering, I mean.”

“I’m afraid that she’s incapable of feeling any conviction of sin,” said Mary, “and that wise, old-fashioned phrase expresses just what I mean as to a lack in her. On the other hand, in a warmhearted, pagan sort of way, she is, I’m quite sure, one of the kindest of people. Her maid, when she went back to England the other day, cried dreadfully at leaving her, and Mrs. Upton cried too. I happened to find them together just before Felkin went. Now I had imagined, in my narrow way, that a spoilt beauty was always a tyrant to her maid.”

“Oh, so her maid’s gone! How does she do her hair, then?”

“Do her hair, Jack? What a funny question. As we all do, of course, with her wits and her hands, I suppose. Any one with common-sense can do their hair.”

Jack kept silence, reflecting on the picture that Imogen had drawn for him–the child bereft of its toy. Had it given it up willingly, or had it been forced to relinquish it by the pressure of circumstance? Remembering his own stringent words, he felt a qualm of compunction. Had he armed Imogen for this ruthlessness?

The lustrous folds of Mrs. Upton’s hair, at lunch, reassured him as to her fitness to do without Felkin in that particular, but his mind still dwelt on the picture of the crying child and he asked Imogen, when he was next alone with her, how the departure of Felkin had been effected.

“You couldn’t manage to let her keep the toy, then?”

“The toy?” Imogen was blank.

He enlightened her. “Her maid, you know, who had to do her hair.”

“Oh, Felkin! No,” Imogen’s face was a little quizzical, “it couldn’t be managed. I thought it over, what you said about sacrificing other people’s needs to her luxuries, and felt that you were right. So I put it to her, very, very gently, of course, very tactfully, so that I believe that she thinks that it was she who initiated the idea. Perhaps she _had_ intended from the first to send her back; it was so obvious that a woman as poor as she is ought not to have a maid. All the same, I felt that she was a little vexed with me, poor dear. But, apart from the economical question, I’m glad I insisted. It’s so much better for her not to be so dependent on another woman. It’s a little degrading for both of them, I think.”

Jack, who theoretically disapproved of all such undemocratic gauds, was sure that Mrs. Upton was much better off without her maid; yet something of the pathos of that image remained with him–the child deprived of its toy; something, too, of discomfort over that echo of her father that he now and then detected in Imogen’s serene sense of rightness.

This discomfort, this uneasy sense of echoes, returned more than once in the days that followed. Mrs. Upton seemed, as yet, to have made very little difference in the situation; she had glided into it smoothly, unobtrusively–a silken shadow; when she was among them it was of that she made him think; and in her shadowed quietness, as of a tranquil mist at evening or at dawn, he more and more came to feel a peace and sweetness. But it was always in this sweetness and this peace that the contrasting throb of restlessness stirred.

He saw her at the meals he frequently attended, meals where the conversation, for the most part, was carried on by Imogen. Mrs. Wake, also a frequent guest, was a very silent one, and Mary an earnest listener.

If Imogen’s talk had ceased to be very interesting to Jack, that was only because he knew it so well. He knew it so well that, while she talked, quietly, fluently, dominatingly, he was able to remain the dispassionate observer and to wonder how it impressed her mother. Jack watched Mrs. Upton, while Imogen talked, leaning her head on her hand and raising contemplative eyes to her daughter. Those soft, dark eyes, eyes almost somnolent under their dusky brows and half-drooped lashes,–how different they were from Imogen’s, as different as dusk from daylight. And they were not really sad, not really sleepy, eyes; that was the surprise of them when, after the downcast mystery, they raised to one suddenly their penetrating intelligence. The poetry of their aspect was constantly contradicted by the prose of their glance. But she did more than turn her own poetry into prose, so he told himself; she turned other people’s into prose, too. Her glance became to him a running translation into sane, almost merry, commonplace, of Imogen’s soarings. He knew that she made the translation and he knew that it was a prose one, but its meaning she kept for herself. It was when, now and then, he felt that he had hit upon a word, a phrase, that the discomfort, the bewilderment, came; and he would then turn resolutely to Imogen and grasp firmly his own conception of her essential meaning, a meaning that could bear any amount of renderings.

She was so beautiful, sitting there, the girl he loved, her pearly face and throat, her coronet of pale, bright gold, rising from the pathetic blackness, that it might well be that the mother felt only his own joy in her loveliness and could spare no margin of consciousness for critical comment. She was so lovely, so young, so good; so jaded, too, with all the labor, the giving of herself, the long thoughts for others; why shouldn’t she be dominant and assured? Why shouldn’t she even be didactic and slightly complacent? If there was sometimes a triteness in her pronouncements, a lack of humor, of spontaneity, in her enthusiasms, surely no one who loved her could recognize them with any but the tenderest of smiles. He felt quite sure that Mrs. Upton recognized them with nothing else. He felt quite sure that the “deepest” thing in Mrs. Upton was the most intense interest in Imogen; but he felt sure, too, that the thing above it, the thing that gazed so quietly, so dispassionately, was complete indifference as to what Imogen might be saying. Didn’t her prose, with its unemphatic evenness, imply that some enthusiasms went quite without saying and that some questions were quite disposed of for talk just because they were so firmly established for action? When he had reached this point of query, Jack felt rising within him that former sense of irritation on Imogen’s behalf, and on his own. After all, youthful triteness and enthusiasm were preferable to indifference. In the stress of this irritation he felt, at moments, a shock of keen sympathy for the departed Mr. Upton, who had, no doubt, often felt that disconcerting mingling of interest and indifference weigh upon his dithyrambic ardors. He often felt very sorry for Mr. Upton as he looked at his widow. It was better to feel that than to feel sorry for her while he listened to Imogen. It did not do to realize too keenly, through Imogen’s echo, what it must have been to listen to Mr. Upton for a lifetime. When, on rare occasions, he had Mrs. Upton to himself, his impulse always was to “draw her out,” to extract from her what were her impressions of things in general and what her attitude toward life. She must really, by this time, have enough accepted him as one of themselves to feel his right to hear all sorts of impressions. He was used to talking things over, talking them, indeed, over and over; turning them, surveying them, making the very most of all their possible significance, with men and women to whom his relationship was half brotherly and wholly comradely, and whom, in the small, fresh, clear world, where he had spent his life, he had known since boyhood. It was a very ethical and intellectual little world, this of Jack’s, where impressions passed from each to each, as if by right, where some suspicion was felt for those that could not be shared, and where to keep anything so worth while to oneself was almost to rob a whole circle. Reticence had the distinct flavor of selfishness and uncertainty of mind, the flavor of laxity. If one were earnest and ardent and disciplined one either knew what one thought, and shared it, or one knew what one wanted to think, and one sought it. Jack suspected Mrs. Upton of being neither earnest, nor ardent, nor disciplined; but he found it difficult to believe that, as a new inmate of his world, she couldn’t be, if only she would make the effort, as clear as the rest of it, and that she wasn’t as ready, if manipulated with tact and sympathy, to give and to receive.

Wandering about the drawing-room, while, as usual in her leisure moments, she crocheted a small jacket, Tison in her lap, he wondered, for instance, what she thought of the drawing-room. He knew that it was very different from the drawing-room in her Surrey cottage, and very different from the drawing-rooms with which, as he had heard from Imogen, she was familiar in the capitals of Europe. Mrs. Upton was, to-day, crocheting a blue border as peacefully as though she had faced pseudo-Correggios and crimson brocade and embossed wall-paper all her life, so that either her tastes shared the indifference of her intelligence or else her power of self-control was commendably complete.

“I hope that you are coming to Boston some day,” he said to her on this occasion, the occasion of the blue border. “I’d like so much to show you my studio there, and my work. I’m not such an idler as you might imagine.”

Mrs. Upton replied that she should never for a moment imagine him an idler and that since she was going to Boston to stay with his great-aunt, a dear but too infrequently seen friend of hers, she hoped soon for the pleasure of seeing his work. “I hear that you are very talented,” she added.

Jack, who considered that he was, did not protest with a false modesty, but went on to talk of the field of art in general, and questioning her, skeptical as to her statement that her artistic tastes were a mere medley, he put together by degrees a conception of vague dislikes and sharp preferences. But, in spite of his persistence in keeping her to Chardin and Japanese prints, she would pass on from herself to Imogen, emphasizing her satisfaction in Imogen’s great interest in art. “It’s such a delightful bond between people,” And Mrs. Upton, with her more than American parental discretion, smiled her approval of such bonds.

Jack reflected some moments before saying that Imogen knew, perhaps, more than she cared. He didn’t think that Imogen had, exactly, the esthetic temperament. And that there was no confidential flavor in these remarks he demonstrated by adding that it was a point he and Imogen often discussed; he had often told her that she should try to feel more and to think less, so that Valerie might amusedly have recalled Imogen’s explanation to her of the fundamental frankness that made lovers in America such “remarkable young men.” Jack’s frankness, evidently, would be restrained by neither diffidence nor affection. She received his diagnosis of her daughter’s case without comment, saying only, after a moment, while she turned a corner of her jacket, “And you are of the artistic temperament, I suppose?”

“Well, yes,” he owned, “in a sense; though not in that in which the word has been so often misused. I don’t see the artist as a performing acrobat nor as an anarchist in ethics, either. I think that art is one of the big aspects of life and that through it one gets hold of a big part of reality.”

Mrs. Upton, mildly intent on her corner, looked acquiescent.

“I think,” Jack went on, “that, like everything else in life worth having, it’s a harmony only attained by discipline and by sacrifice. And it’s essentially a social, not a selfish attainment; it widens our boundaries of comprehension and sympathy; it reveals brotherhood. The artist’s is a high form of service.”

He suspected Mrs. Upton, while he spoke, of disagreement; he suspected her, also, of finding him sententious; but she continued to look interested, so that, quite conscious of his didactic purpose and amused by all the things he saw in their situation, he unfolded to her his conception of the artist’s place in the social organism.

She said, finally, “I should have thought that art was much more of an end in itself.”

“Ah, there we come to the philosophy of it,” said Jack. “It _is_, of course, a sort of mysticism. One lays hold of something eternal in all achievement; but then, you see, one finds out that the eternal isn’t cut up into sections, as it were–art here, ethics there–intellect yonder; one finds out that all that is eternal is bound up with the whole, so that you can’t separate beauty from goodness and truth any more than you can divide a man’s moral sense from his artistic and rational interests.”

“Still, it’s in sections for us, surely? What very horrid people can be great artists,” Mrs. Upton half questioned, half mused.

“Ah, I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it!” Jack broke out. “You’ll find a flaw in his art, if you find a moral chaos in him. It must be a harmony!”

The corner was long since turned, and on a simple stretch of blue Mrs. Upton now looked up at him with a smile that showed him that whether she liked what he said or not, she certainly liked him. It was here that the slight bewilderment came in, to feel that he had been upholding some unmoral doctrine she would have smiled in just the same way; and the bewilderment was greater on feeling how much he liked her to like him. Over the didactic intentions, a boyish, an answering, smile irradiated his face.

“I’m not much of a thinker, but I suppose that it does all come together, somehow,” she said.

“I’m sure that you make a great deal of beauty, wherever you are,” Jack answered irrelevantly. “I’ve heard that your cottage in England is so charming. Mrs. Wake was telling me about it.”

“It is a dear little place.”

He remembered, suddenly, that the room where they talked contradicted his assertion, and, glancing about it furtively, his eye traversed the highly glazed surface of the Correggio. Mrs. Upton’s glance followed his. “I don’t think I ever cared, so seriously, about beauty,” she said, smiling quietly. “I lived, you see, for a good many years in this room, just as it is.” There was no pathos in her voice. Jack brought it out for her.

“I am sure you hated it!”

“I thought it ugly, of course; but I didn’t mind so much as all that. I didn’t mind, really, so much as you would.”

“Not enough to try to have it right?”

He was marching his ethics into it, and, with his question, he felt now that he had brought Mr. Upton right down from the wall and between them. Mr. Upton had not minded the room at all, or had minded only in the sense that he made it a matter of conscience not to mind. And aspects of it Mr. Upton had thought beautiful. And that Mrs. Upton felt all this he was sure from the very vagueness of her answer.

“That would have meant caring more for beauty than for more important things in life.”

He knew that it was in horribly bad taste, but he couldn’t help having it out, now that he had, involuntarily, gone so far. “If you like Chardin, I’m sure that that hurts you,” and he indicated the pseudo-Correggio, this time openly.

She followed his gesture with brows of mildly lifted inquiry, “You mean it’s not genuine?”

“That, and a great deal more. It’s imitation, and it’s bad imitation; and, anyway, the original would be out of place here–on that wall-paper.”

But Mrs. Upton wouldn’t be clear; wouldn’t be drawn; wouldn’t, simply, share. She shook her head; she smiled, as though he must accept from her her lack of proper feeling, repeating, “I didn’t like it, but, really, I never minded much.” And he had to extract what satisfaction he could from her final, vague summing-up. “It went with the chairs–and all the rest.”

X

“Mama,” said Imogen, “who is Sir Basil?” She had picked up a letter from the hall table as she and Jack passed on their way up-stairs after their walk, and she carried it into the library with the question.

Mrs. Upton was making tea beside the fire, Mrs. Wake and Mary with her, and as Imogen held out the letter with its English stamp and masculine handwriting a dusky rose-color mounted to her face. Indeed, in taking the letter from her daughter’s hand, her blush was so obvious that a slight silence of recognized and shared embarrassment made itself felt.

It was Jack who felt it most. After his swiftly averted glance at Mrs. Upton his own cheeks had flamed in ignorant sympathy. He was able, in a moment, to see that it might have been the fire, or the tea, or the mere suddenness of an unexpected question that had caused the look of helpless girlishness, but the memory stayed with him, a tenderness and a solicitude in it.

Imogen had apparently seen nothing. She went on, pulling off her gloves, taking off her hat, glancing at her radiant white and rose in the glass while she questioned. “I remember him in your letters, but remember him so little–a dull, kind old country squire, the impression, I think. But what does a dull, kind old country squire find to write about so often?”

If Mrs. Upton couldn’t control her cheeks she could perfectly control her manner, and though Jack’s sympathy guessed at some pretty decisive irritation under it, he could but feel that its calm disposed of any absurd interpretations that the blush might have aroused.

“Yes, I have often, I think, mentioned him in my letters, Imogen, though not in those terms. He is a neighbor of mine in Surrey and a friend.”

“Is he clever?” Imogen asked, ignoring the coolness in her mother’s voice.

“Not particularly.”

“What does he do, mama?”

“He takes care of his property.”

“Sport and feudal philanthropy, I suppose,” Imogen smiled.

“Very much just that,” Mrs. Upton answered, pouring out her daughter’s tea.

Jack, who almost expected to see Imogen’s brow darken with reprobation for the type of existence so described, was relieved, and at the same time perturbed, to observe that the humorous kindliness of her manner remained unclouded. No doubt she found the subject too trivial and too remote for gravity. Jack himself had a general idea that serious friendships between man and woman were adapted only to the young and the unmated. After marriage, according to this conception, the sexes became, even in social intercourse, monogamous, and he couldn’t feel the bond between Mrs. Upton and a feudal country squire as a matter of much importance. But, on the other hand, Mrs. Upton had said “friend” with decision, and though the word, for her, could not mean what it meant to people like himself and Imogen–a grave, a beautiful bond of mutual help, mutual endeavor, mutual rejoicing in the wonder and splendor of life–even a trivial relationship was not a fit subject for playful patronage. It was with sharp disapprobation that he heard Imogen go on to say, “I should like to meet a man like that–really to know. One imagines that they are as extinct as the dodo, and suddenly, if one goes to England, one finds them swarming. Happy, decorative, empty people; perfectly kind, perfectly contented, perfectly useless. Oh, I don’t mean your Sir Basil a bit, mama darling. I’m quite sure, since you like him, that he is a more interesting variation of the type. Only I can’t help wondering what he _does_ find to write about.”

“I think, as I am wondering myself, I will ask you all to excuse me if I open my letter,” said Mrs. Upton, and, making no offer of satisfying Imogen’s curiosity, she unfolded two stout sheets of paper and proceeded to read them.

Imogen did not lose her look of lightness, but Jack fancied in the steadiness of the gaze that she bent upon her mother a controlled anger.

“One may be useful, Imogen, without wearing any badge of usefulness,” Mrs. Wake now observed. Her bonnet, as usual, on one side, and her hair much disarranged, she had listened to the colloquy in silence.

Imogen was always very sweet with Mrs. Wake. She had the air of a full, deep river benignly willing to receive without a ripple any number of such tossed pebbles, to engulf and flow over them. She had told Jack that Mrs. Wake’s dry aggressiveness did not blind her for a moment to Mrs. Wake’s noble qualities. Mrs. Wake was a brave, a splendid person, and she had the greatest admiration for her; but, beneath these appreciations, a complete indifference as to Mrs. Wake’s opinions and personality showed always in her demeanor toward her. She was a splendid person, but she was of no importance to Imogen whatever.

“I don’t think that one can be useful unless one is actively helping on the world’s work, dear Mrs. Wake,” she now said. “Mary, we have tickets for Carnegie Hall to-morrow night; won’t that be a treat? I long for a deep draft of music.”

“One does help it on,” said Mrs. Wake, skipping, as it were, another pebble, “if one fills one’s place in life and does one’s duty.”

Imogen now gave her a more undivided attention. “Precisely. And one must grow all the time to do that. One’s place in life is a growing thing, It doesn’t remain fixed and changeless–as English conservatism usually implies. Are you a friend of Sir Basil’s, too?”

“I met him while I was with your mother, and I thought it a pity we didn’t produce more men like him over here–simple, unselfconscious men, contented to be themselves and to do the duty that is nearest them.”

“Anglomaniac!” Imogen smiled, sugaring her second cup of tea.

Mrs. Wake flushed slightly. “Because I see the good qualities of another country?”

“Because you see its defects with a glamour over them.”

“Is it a defect to do well by instinct what we have not yet learned to do without effort!”

“Ah,–but the danger there is–” Jack here broke in, much interested, “the danger there is that you merge the individual in the function. When function becomes instinctive it atrophies unless it can grow into higher forms of function. Imogen’s right, you know.”

“In a sense, no doubt. But all the same our defect is that we have so little interest except as individuals.”

“What more interest can any one have than that?”

“In older civilizations people may have all the accumulated interest of the deep background, the long past, that, quite unconsciously, they embody.”

“We have the interest of the future.”

“I don’t think so, quite; for the individual, the future doesn’t seem to count. The individual is sacrificed to the future, but the past is, in a sense, sacrificed for the individual; in the right sort it’s all there–summed up.”

Imogen had listened, still with her steady smile, to these heresies and to Jack’s over-lenient dealing with them. She picked up a review, turning the pages and glancing through it while she said, ever so lightly and gently:

“I think that you would find most aristocrats against you in our country, dear Mrs. Wake. With all the depth of our background, the length of our past, you would find, in Jack and Mary and me, for instance, that it’s our sense of the future, of our own purposes for it, that makes our truest reality.”

Jack was rather pleased with this apt summing-up, too pleased, in his masculine ingenuousness, to feel that for Mrs. Wake, with no ancestry at all to speak of, such a summing could not be very gratifying. He didn’t see this at all until Mrs. Upton, folding her letter, came into the slightly awkward silence that followed Imogen’s speech, with the decisiveness that had subtly animated her manner since Imogen’s entrance. She remarked that the past, in that sense of hereditary tradition handed on by hereditary power, didn’t exist at all in America; it was just that fact that made America so different and so interesting; its aristocrats so often had the shallowest of backgrounds. And in her gliding to a change of subject, in her addressing of an entirely foreign question to Mrs. Wake, Jack guessed at a little flare of resentment on her friend’s behalf.

Imogen kept her calm, and while her mother talked to Mrs. Wake she talked to Mary; but that the calm was assumed she showed him presently when they were left alone. She then showed him, indeed, that she was frankly angry.

“One doesn’t mind Mrs. Wake,” she said; “it’s that type among us, the type without background, without traditions, that is so influenced by the European thing; you saw the little sop mama threw to her–she an aristocrat!–because of a generation of great wealth; that could be her only claim; but to have mama so dead to all we mean!”

Jack, rather embarrassed by the pressure of his enlightenments, said that he hadn’t felt that; it seemed to him that she did see what they meant, it was their future that counted, in the main.

“A rootless future, according to her!”

“Why, we have our past; it’s the way we possess it that’s new in the world; that’s what she meant. Any little advantage that you or I may have in our half-dozen or so generations of respectability and responsibility, is ours only to share, to make us _tell_ more in the general uplifting,”

“You think that you need say that to _me_, Jack! As for respectability, that homespun word hardly applies; we do have lineage here, and in the European sense, even if without the European power. But that’s no matter. It’s the pressing down on me of this alien standard, whether expressed or not, that stifles me. I could feel mama’s hostility in every word, every glance.”

“Hardly hostility, Imogen. Perhaps a touch of vexation on Mrs. Wake’s account. You didn’t mean it, of course, but it might have hurt, what you said.”

“That! That was a mere opportunity. Didn’t you feel and see that it was!”

Jack’s aspect now took on its air of serious and reasonable demonstration.

“Well, you know, Imogen, you were a little tactless about her friendship–about this Sir Basil.”

He expected wonder and denial, but, on the contrary, after going to the window and looking out silently for some moments, Imogen, without turning, said, “It’s not a friendship I care about.”

“Why not?” Jack asked, taken aback.

“I don’t like it,” Imogen repeated.

“Why under the sun should you dislike it? What do you know about it, anyway?”

Imogen still gazed from the window. “Jack, I don’t believe that mama is at all the woman to have friends, as we understand the word. I don’t believe that it is simply a friendship. Yes, you may well look surprised,”–she had turned to him now–“I’ve never told you. It seemed unfair to her. But again and again I’ve caught her whispers, hints, about the sentimental attachments mama inspires. You may imagine how I’ve felt, living here with _him_, in his loneliness. I don’t say, I don’t believe, that mama was ever a flirt; she is too dignified, too distinguished a woman for that; but the fact remains that whispers of this sort do attach themselves to her name, and a woman is always to blame, in some sense, for that.”

Jack, looking as startled as she had hoped he would, gazed now with frowning intentness on the ground and made no reply.

“As for this Sir Basil,” Imogen went on, “I used to wonder if he were another of these triflers with the sanctity of love, and of late I’ve wondered more. He writes to her constantly. What can the bond between mama and a man of that type be unless it’s a sentimental one? And didn’t you see her blush to-day?”

Jack now raised his eyes to her and she saw that he, at all events, was blushing. “I can’t bear to hear you talk like this, Imogen,” he said.

Imogen’s own cheeks flamed at the implied reproach. “Do you mean that I must lock everything, everything I have to suffer, into my own heart? I thought that to you, Jack, I could say anything.”

“Of course, of course, dear. Only don’t _think_ in this way.”

“I accuse her of nothing but accepting this sort of homage.”

“I know; of course,–only not even to me. They are friends. We have no right to spy upon them; it’s almost as if you had laid a trap for her and then pointed her out to me in it. Oh, I know that you didn’t mean it so.”

“Spy on her! I only wanted to know!”

“But your tone was, well, rather offensively–humorous.”

“Can you feel that a friendship to be taken seriously? The very kindest thing is to treat it lightly, humorously, as I did. She ought to be laughed out of tolerating such an unbecoming relationship. A woman of her age ought not to be able to blush like that.”

Looking down again, still with his deep flush, Jack said, “Really, Imogen, I think that you take too much upon yourself.”

Imogen felt her cheeks whiten. She fixed her eyes hard on his downcast face.

“It will be the last touch to all I have to bear, Jack, if mama brings a misunderstanding between you and me. If you can feel it fitting, appropriate, that a widow of barely four months should encourage the infatuation of a stupid old Englishman, then I have no more to say. We have different conceptions of right and wrong, that is all.” Imogen’s lips trembled slightly in pronouncing the words.

“I should agree with you if that were the case, Imogen. I don’t believe that it is.”

“Very well. Wait and see if it isn’t the case,” said Imogen.

It was Jack who broached another subject, asking her about some concerts she had gone to recently; but, turned from him again and looking out into the evening, her answers were so vague and chill, that presently, casting a glance half mournful and half alarmed upon her, he bade her good-by and left her.

Imogen stood looking out unseeingly, a sense of indignation and of fear weighing upon her. Jack had never before left her like this. But she could not yield to the impulse to call out to him, run after him, beg him not to go with a misunderstanding unresolved between them, for she was right and he was wrong. She had told him to wait and see if it wasn’t the case, what she had said; and now they must wait. She believed that it was the case, and the thought filled her with a sense of personal humiliation.

Since her summing up of the situation in the library, not three months ago, that first quiet sense of mastery had been much shaken, and now for weeks there had been with her constantly a strange gliding of new realizations. This one seemed the last touch to her mother’s wrongness–a wrongness that had threatened nothing, had crushed down on nothing, and that yet pervaded more and more the whole of life–that she should bring back to her old deserted home not a touch of penitence and the incense of absurd devotions. Friends of that sort, middle-aged, dull Englishmen, didn’t, Imogen had wisely surmised, write to one every week. It wasn’t as if they had uniting interests to bind them. Even a literary, a political, a philanthropic, correspondence Imogen would have felt as something of an affront to her father’s memory, now, at this time; such links with the life that had always been a sore upon their family dignity should have been laid aside while the official mourning lasted, so to speak. But Sir Basil, she felt sure, had no mitigating interests to write about, and the large, square envelope that lay so often on the hall-table seemed to her like a pert, placid face gazing in at the house of mourning. To-day, yes, she had wanted to know, to see, and suspicions and resentments from dim had become keen.

And now, to complete it all, Jack did not understand. Jack thought her unfair, unkind. He had left her with that unresolved discord between them. A sense of bereavement, foreboding, and desolation filled her heart. On the table beside her stood a tall vase of lilies that he had sent her, and as she stood, thinking sad and bitter thoughts, she passed her hand over them from time to time, bending her face to them, till, suddenly, the tears rose and fell and, closing her eyes, holding the flowers against her cheek, she began to cry.

That was what she had meant to be like, the pure, sweet aroma of these flowers, filling all the lives about her with a spiritual fragrance. She did so want to be good and lovely, to make goodness and loveliness grow about her. It was hard, hard, when that was what she wanted–all that she wanted–to receive these buffets from loved hands, to see loved eyes look at her with trouble and severity. It was nothing, indeed,–it was, indeed, only to be expected,–that her mother should not recognize the spiritual fragrance; that Jack should be so insensible to it pierced her. And feeling herself alone in a blind and hostile world, she sobbed and sobbed, finding a sad relief in tears. She was able to think, while she wept, that though it was a relief she mustn’t let it become a weakness; mustn’t let herself slide into the danger of allowing grief and desolation to blur outlines for her. That others were blind mustn’t blind her; that others did not see her as good and lovely must not make her, with cowardly complaisance, forswear her own clear consciousness of right. She was thinking this, and her sobs were becoming a little quieter, when her mother, now in her evening tea-gown, came back into the room.

Imogen was not displeased that her grief should have this particular witness. Besides all the deep, unspoken wrongs, her mother must be conscious of smaller wrongs against her this afternoon, must know that she had–well–tried to put her, as it were, in her place, first about the letter and then about Mrs. Wake’s lack of aristocratic instinct. She must know this and must know that Imogen knew it. These were trivial matters, not to be recognized between them; and how completely indifferent they were to her her present grief would demonstrate. Such tears fell only for great sorrows. Holding the flowers to her cheek, she wept on, turning her face away. She knew that her mother had paused, startled, at a loss; and, gravely, without one word, she intended, in a moment, unless her mother should think it becoming to withdraw, to leave the room, still weeping. But she had not time to carry this resolution into effect. Suddenly, and much to her dismay, she felt her mother’s arms around her, while her mother’s voice, alarmed, tender, tearful, came to her: “Poor darling, my poor darling, what is it? Please tell me.”

Physical demonstrations were never pleasing to Imogen, who, indeed, disliked being touched; and now, though she submitted to having her head drawn down to her mother’s shoulder, she could not feel that the physical contact in any way bridged the chasm between them. She felt, presently, from her mother’s inarticulate murmurs of compunction and pity, that this was, apparently, what she had hoped for. It was evidently with difficulty, before her child’s unresponsive silence, that she found words.

“Is it anything that I’ve done?” she questioned. “Have I seemed cross this afternoon? I _was_ a little cross, I know. Do forgive me, dear.”

Enveloped as she was in her mother’s arms, so near that she could feel the warmth and smoothness of her shoulder through the fine texture of her gown, so near that a fresh fragrance, like that from a bank of violets, seemed to breathe upon her, Imogen found it a little difficult to control the discomfort that the contact aroused in her. “Of course I forgive you, dear mama,” she said, in a voice that had regained its composure. “But, oh no!–it was not at all for that–I hardly noticed it. It’s nothing that you can help, dear.”

“But I can’t bear to have you cry and not know what’s the matter.”

“Your knowing wouldn’t help me, would it?” said Imogen, with a faint smile, lifting her hand to press her handkerchief to her eyes.

“No, of course not; but it would help _me_–for my sake, then.”

“Then, if it helps you, it was papa I was thinking of. I miss him so.” And with the words, that placed before her suddenly a picture of her own desolation, a great sob again shook her. “I’m so lonely now, so lonely.” Her mother held her, not speaking, though Imogen now felt that she, too, wept, and a greater bitterness rose in her at the thought that it was not for her dead father that the tears fell but in pure weak sympathy and helplessness. She, herself, was the only lonely one. She alone, remembered. She alone longed for him. In this sharpened realization of her own sorrow she forgot that it had not been the actual cause of her grief.

“Poor darling; poor child,” her mother said at last. “Imogen, I know that I’ve failed, in so much. But I want so to make up for things, if I can; to be near you; to fill the loneliness a little; to have you love me, too, with time.”

“Love you, my dear mother? Why, I am full of love for you. Haven’t you felt that?” Imogen drew herself away to look her grieved wonder into her mother’s eyes. “Oh, mama, how little you know me!”

Valerie, flushed, the tears on her cheeks, oddly shaken from her usual serenity, still clasped her daughter’s hands and still spoke on. “I know, I know,–but it’s not in the way it ought to be. It’s not your fault, Imogen; it’s mine; it must be the mother’s fault if she can’t make herself needed. Only you can’t know how it all began, from so far back–that sense that you didn’t need me. But I shirked; I know that I shirked. Things seemed too hard for me–I didn’t know how to bear them. Perhaps you might have come almost to hate me, if I had stayed, as things were. I’m not making any appeal. I’m not trying to force anything. But I so want you to know how I long to have my chance–to begin all over again. I so want you to help.”

Imogen, troubled and confused by her mother’s soft yet almost passionate eagerness, that seemed to pull her down to some childish, inferior place, just as her mother’s arms had drawn down her head to an attitude incongruous with its own benignant loftiness, had yet been able, while she spoke, to gather her thoughts into a keen, moral concentration upon her actual words. She was accustomed, in moments of moral stress, to a quick lifting of her heart and mind for help and insight toward the highest that she knew, and she felt herself pray now, “Help me to be true, to her, for her.” The prayer seemed to raise her from some threatened abasement, and from her regained height she spoke with a sense of assured revelation. “We can’t have things by merely _wanting_, them. To gain anything we must _work_ for it. You left us. We didn’t shut you out. You were different.–You _are_ different.”

But her mother’s vehemence was still too great to be thrown back by salutary truths.

“Yes; that’s just it; we were different. It was that that seemed to shut me out. You were with him–against me. And I’m not asking for any change in you; I don’t think that I expect any change in myself,–I am not asking for any place in your heart that is his, dear child; I know that that can’t be, should not be. But people can be different, and yet near. They can be different and yet love each other very much. That’s all I want–that you should see how I care for you and trust me.”

“I do trust you, darling mama. I do see that you are warm-hearted, full of kind impulses. But I think that your life is confused, uncertain of any goal. If you are to be near me in the way you crave, you must change. And we _can_, dear, with faith and effort. When you have found yourself, found a goal, I shall feel you near.”

“Ah, but don’t be so over-logical, dear child. You’re my goal!” Valerie smiled and appealed at once.

Imogen, though smiling gravely too, shook her head. “I’m afraid that I’m only your last toy, mama darling. You have come over here to see if you can make me happy, just as if you were refurnishing a house. But, you see, my happiness doesn’t depend on you.”

“You are hard on me, Imogen.”

“No; no; I mean to be so gentle. It’s such a dangerous view of life–that centering it on some one else, making them an end. I feel so differently about life. I think that our love for others is only sound and true when it helps them to power of service to some shared ideal. Your love for me isn’t like that. It’s only an instinctive craving. Forgive me if I seem ruthless. I only want to help you to see clearly, dear.”

Valerie, still holding her daughter’s hands, looked away from her and around the room with a glance at once vague and a little wild.

“I don’t know what to say to you,” she murmured. “You make all that I mean wither.” She was sad; her ardor had dropped from her. She was not at all convicted of error; indeed, she was trying, so it seemed, to convict her, Imogen, of one.

Imogen felt a cold resistance rising within her to meet this misinterpretation. “On the contrary, dear,” she said, “it is just the poetry, the reality of life, in all its stern glory,–because it is and must be stern if it is to be spiritual,–it is just that, it seems to me, that you are trying to reduce to a sort of pretty, facile lyric.”

Valerie still held the girl’s hands very tightly, as though grasping hard some dying hope. And looking down upon the ground she stood silent for some moments. Presently she said, not raising her eyes, “I have won no right, I suppose, to be seen more significantly by you. Only, I want you to understand that I don’t see myself like that.”

Again Imogen felt the unpleasant sensation of being made to seem young and inexperienced. Her mother’s very quiet before exhortation; her sad relapse into grave kindliness, a kindliness, too, not without its touch of severity, showed that she possessed, or thought that she possessed, some inner assurance for which Imogen could find no ground. In answering her she grasped at all her own.

“I’m very sure you don’t,” she said, “for I don’t for one moment misjudge your sincerity. And what I want you to believe, my dear mother, is that I long for the time when any strength and insight I may have gained through my long fight, by _his_ side, may be of use to you. _Trust_ your own best vision of yourself and it will some day realize itself. I will trust it too, indeed, indeed, I will. We must grow if we keep a vision,”

Mrs. Upton now raised her eyes and looked swiftly but deeply at her daughter. It was a look that left many hopes behind it. It was a look that armed other, and quite selfless, hopes, with its grave and watchful understanding. The understanding would not have been so clear had it not been fed by all the springs of baffled tenderness that only so could find their uses. Giving her daughter’s hands a final shake, as if over some compact, perhaps over that of growth, she turned away. Tison, who had followed her into the room and had stood for long looking up at the colloquy that ignored him, jumped against her dress and she stooped and picked him up, pressing her cheek against his silken side.

“You had better dress now, Imogen,” she said, in tones of astonishing commonplace. “You’ve only time. I’ve kept you so long.” And holding Tison against her cheek she went to the window.

XI

The tableaux were not to come off until the end of April, and Jack, having set things in motion, was in Boston at the beginning of the month. It was at this time that Mrs. Upton, too, was in Boston, with her old friend and his great-aunt, and it was at this time that he came, as he phrased it to himself, really into touch with her.

Jack’s aunt lived in a spacious, peaceful house on the hill, and the windows of Jack’s large flat, near by, looked over the Common, the Gardens, the Charles River, a cheerful, bird’s-eye view of the tranquil city, breathed upon now by the first, faint green of spring.

Jack was pleased that Mrs. Upton and his aunt–a mild, blanched old lady with silvery side-curls under the arch of an old-fashioned bonnet-should often come to tea with him, for in the arrangement of his rooms-that looked so unarranged–he felt sure that she must recognize a taste as fine and fastidious as her own. He suspected Mrs. Upton of finding him merely ethical and he was eager that she should see that his grasp on life was larger than she might imagine. His taste was fine and fastidious; it was also disciplined and gracefully vagrant; she must see that in the few but perfect pictures and mezzotints on his walls; the collection of old white Chinese porcelain standing about the room on black carved stands; in his wonderful black lacquer cabinets and in all the charming medley of the rare and the appropriate.

Certainly, whatever was Mrs. Upton’s impression of him, she frequently expressed herself as delighted with his rooms, and as they sat in the deep window-seat, which commanded the view of the city, he felt more and more sure that whatever that impression of him might be, it rested upon an essential liking. It was pleasant to Jack to feel sure of this, little as he might be able to justify to himself his gratification. Somehow, with Mrs. Upton, he didn’t find himself occupied with justifying things. The ease that she had always made for him shone out, now, uninterruptedly, and as they talked, while the dear old aunt sat near, turning the leaves of a book, joining in with a word now and then, it was, in the main, the soft, sweet sense of ease, like the breath of violets in the air, that surrounded him. They talked of all sorts of things, or rather, as he said to himself, they babbled, for real talk could hardly be so discursive, so aimless, so merely merry. She made him think of a child playing with a lapful of flowers; that was what her talk was like. She would spread them out in formal rows, arrange them in pretty, intricate posies, or, suddenly, gather them into generous handfuls which she gave you with a pleased glance and laugh. It was queer to find a person who took all “talk” so lightly and who yet, he felt quite sure, took some things hard. It was like the contrast between her indolent face and her clear, unbiased gaze, that would not flinch or deceive itself from or about anything that it met. Apparently most of the things that it met she didn’t take solemnly. The world, as far as he could guess, was for her mainly made up of rather trivial things, whether hours or people; but, with his new sense of enlightenment, he more and more came to realize that it might be so made up and yet, to her apprehension, be very bad, very sad, and very worth while too. And after seeing her as a child playing with flowers he could imagine her in some suddenly heroic role–as one of the softly nurtured women of the French Revolution, for instance, a creature made up of little gaieties, little griefs; of sprigged silk and gossamer, powder and patches; blossoming, among the horrors of a hopeless prison, into courageous graces. She would smile, talk, play cards with them, those doomed ones, she herself doomed; she would make life’s last day livable, in every exquisite sense of the word. And he could see her in the tumbril, her arm round a terrified girl; he could see her mounting the steps of the guillotine, perhaps with no upward glance to heaven, but with a composure as resolute and as serene as any saint’s.

These were strange visions to cross his mind as they sat and talked, while she made posies for him, and even when they did not hover he often found himself dwelling with a sort of touched tenderness upon something vaguely pathetic in her. Perhaps it was only that he found it pathetic to see her look so young when, measured beside his own contrasted youth, he felt how old she was. It was pathetic that eyes so clear should fade, that a cheek so rounded should wither, that the bloom and softness and freshness that her whole being expressed should be evanescent. Jack was not given to such meditations, having a robust, transcendental indifference to earthly gauds unless he could fit them into ethical significances. It was, indeed, no beauty such as Imogen’s that he felt in Mrs. Upton. He was not consciously aware that her loveliness was of a subtler, finer quality than her daughter’s. She did not remind him of a Madonna nor of anything to do with a temple. But the very fact that he couldn’t tabulate and pigeon-hole her with some uplifting analogy made her appeal the most direct that he had ever experienced. The dimness of her lashes; the Japanese-like oddity of her smile; the very way in which her hair turned up from her neck with an eddy of escaping tendrils,–these things pervaded his consciousness. He didn’t like to think of her being hurt and unhappy, and he often wondered if she wasn’t bound to be both. He wondered about her a great deal. He received, on every day they met, hints and illuminations, but never the clear revealment that he hoped for. The thing that grew surer and surer for him was her essential liking, and the thing that became sweeter and sweeter, though the old perplexity mingled with it, was the superficial amusement he caused her. One of the things that, he began to see, amused her a little was the catholicity of taste displayed in the books scattered about his rooms, the volumes of French and Italian that the great-aunt would take up while they talked. They were books that she felt, he was quite sure, as funnily incongruous with his whole significance, and that their presence there meant none of the things that in another environment they would have stood for; neither cosmopolitanism nor an unbiased connoisseurship interested in all the flowers–_du mal_ among the rest–of the human intelligence. That they meant for him his own omniscient appreciation, unshakenly sure of the ethical category into which he could place each fruit, however ominous its tainted ripeness; each flower, however freaked with perverse tints, left her mildly skeptical; so that he felt, with just a flicker of his old irritation, that the very plentifulness of esthetic corruption that he could display to her testified for her to his essential guilelessness, and, perhaps, to a blandness and narrowness of nature that lacked even the capacity for infection. Jack had to own to himself that, though he strove to make it rigorously esthetic, his seeing of d’Annunzio–to take at random one of the _fleurs du mal_–was as a shining, a luridly splendid warning of what happened to decadent people in unpleasant Latin countries. Such lurid splendor was as far from him as the horrors of the Orestean Trilogy. In Mrs. Upton’s eyes this distance, though a distinct advantage for him, was the result of no choice or conflict, but of environment merely, and she probably thought that the problems of Nietzschean ethics were not to be solved and disposed of by people whom they could never touch. But all the same, and it was here that the atoning softness came in, he felt that she liked him the better for being able to see a _fleur du mal_ only as if it were a weird pressed product under a glass case. And if he amused her it was not because of any sense of superior wisdom; she didn’t deny her consciousness of wider contrasts, but she made no claim at all for deeper insight;–the very way in which she talked over the sinister people with him showed that,–asking him his opinion about this or that and opening a volume here and there to read out in her exquisite French or Italian some passage whose full beauty he had never before so realized. Any criticism or comment that she offered was, evidently, of the slightest weight in her own estimation; but, there again one must remember, so many things seemed light to Mrs. Upton, so light, indeed, that he had often with her a sense of pressures removed and an easier world altogether.

“The trouble with him–with all his cleverness and beauty–is that his picture isn’t true,” Mrs. Upton said of d’Annunzio, standing with a volume in her hand in the clear afternoon light.

“True to him,” Jack amended, alert for the displayal of his own comprehension.

“I can’t think it. Life is always, for everybody, so much more commonplace than he dares make it. He is afraid of the commonplace; he won’t face it; and the revenge life takes on people who do that, people who are really afraid, people who attitudinize, is to infect them in some subtle, mocking way with the very thing they are trying to escape.”

“Well, but he isn’t commonplace.”

“No; worse; he’s silly.” She had put down the book and taken up another, an older one. “Clough,–how far one must travel from d’Annunzio to come to him.

‘It fortifies my soul to know
That though I perish, Truth is so.'”

She meditated the Stoic flavor.

“The last word of heroism, of faith,” Jack said, thinking of the tumbril. But Valerie turned the leaf a little petulantly. “Heroism? Why?”

“Why,”–as usual he was glad to show her that, if she really wanted to see clearly, he could show her where clearness, of the best sort, lay,–“why, the man who can say that is free. He has abdicated every selfish claim to the Highest.”

“Highest? Why should it fortify my soul to know that truth is ‘so’ if ‘so’ happens to be some man-devouring dragon of a world-power?”

“Clough assumed, of course, that the truth was high–as it might be, even if it devoured one.”

“I’ve no use for a truth that would have no better use for me,” smiled Valerie, and on this he tried to draw her on, from her rejection of such heroism, to some exposal of her own conception of truth, her own opinions about life, a venture in which he always failed. Not that she purposely eluded. She listened, grave, interested, but, when the time came for her to make her contribution, fingering about, metaphorically, in a purse, which, though not at all empty, contained, apparently, a confused medley of coinage. If she could have found the right coin, she would have tendered it gladly; but she seemed to consider a vague chink as all that could be really desired of her, to take it for granted that he knew that he had lost nothing of any value.

* * * * *

Sometimes he and Mrs. Upton, Tison trotting at their heels, took walks together, passing down the steep old streets, austere and cheerful, to the gardens and along the wide avenue with its lines of trees and broad strip of turf, on and out to the bridge that spanned the river. They enjoyed together the view of the pale expanse of water, placidly flowing in the windless sunshine, and, when they turned to come back, their favorite aspect of the town. They could see it, then, silhouetted in the vague grays and reds of its old houses, climbing from the purplish maze of tree-tops in the Common, climbing with a soft, jostling irregularity, to where the dim gold bubble of the State House dome rounded on the sky. It almost made one think, so silhouetted, of a Durer etching.

“Dear place,” Mrs. Upton would sigh restfully, and that she was resting in all her stay here, resting from the demands, the adjustments, of her new life, he was acutely aware. Resting from Imogen. Yes, why shouldn’t he very simply face that fact? He, too, felt, for the first time, that Imogen had rather tired him and that he was glad of this interlude before taking up again the unresolved discord where they had left it. Imogen’s last word about her mother had been that very ominous “Wait and see,” and Jack felt that the discord had grown, more complicated from the fact that, quite without waiting, he saw a great deal that Imogen, apparently, did not. He had seen so much that he was willing to wait for whatever else he was to see with very little perturbation of mind, and that, in the meanwhile, as many Sir Basils as it pleased Mrs. Upton to have write to her should do so.

But Mrs. Upton talked a great deal about Imogen, so much that he came to suspect her of adjusting the conversation to some supposed craving in himself. She had never asked a question about his relations with her daughter, accepting merely with interest any signs they might choose to give her, but insinuating no hint of an appeal for more than they might choose to give. She probably took for granted what was the truth of the situation, that it rested with Imogen to make it a definite one. She did not treat him as an accepted lover, nor yet as a rejected one; she discriminated with the nicest delicacy. What she allowed herself to see, the ground she went upon, was his deep interest, his deep attachment. In that light he was admitted by degrees to an intimacy that he knew he could hardly have won so soon on his own merits. She had observed him; she had thought him over; she liked him for himself; but, far more than this, she liked him for Imogen. He often guessed, from a word or look, at a deep core of feeling in her where her repressed, unemphatic, yet vigilant, maternity burned steadily. From her growing fondness for him he could gage how fond she must be of Imogen. The nearness that this made for them was wholly delightful to Jack, were it not embittered by the familiar sense, sharper than ever now, of self-questioning and restlessness. A year ago, six months ago–no, three months only, just before her own coming–how exquisitely such sympathy, such understanding would have fitted into all his needs. He could have talked to her, then, by the hour, frankly, freely, joyously, about Imogen. And the restlessness now was to feel that it was just because of her coming, because of the soft clear light that she had so unconsciously, so revealingly, diffused, that things had, in some odd way, taken on a new color, so that the whole world, so that Imogen especially, looked different, so that he couldn’t any longer be frank, altogether. It would have been part of the joy, three months ago, to talk over his loving perception of Imogen’s little foibles and childishnesses, to laugh, with a loving listener, over her little complacencies and pomposities. He had taken them as lightly as that, then. They had really counted for nothing. Now they had come to count for so much, and all because of that clear, soft light, that he really couldn’t laugh at them. He couldn’t laugh at them, and since he couldn’t do that he must keep silence over them, and as a result the talks about Imogen with Imogen’s mother were, for his consciousness, a little random and at sea. Imogen’s mother confidently based their community on a shared vision, and that he kept back his real impression of what he saw was made all the worse by his intuition that she, too, kept back hers, that she talked from his supposed point of view, as it were, and didn’t give him a glimmer of her own. She loved Imogen, or, perhaps, rather, she loved her daughter; but what did she think of Imogen? That was the question that had grown so sharp.

* * * * *

On the day before he and Mrs. Upton went back together to New York, Jack gave a little tea that was almost a family affair. Cambridge had been one of their expeditions, in Rose Packer’s motor-car, and there Eddy Upton had given them tea in his room overlooking the elms of the “Yard” at Harvard. Jack’s tea was in some sort a return, for Eddy and Rose both were there and that Rose, in Eddy’s eyes, didn’t count as an outsider was now an accepted fact.

Eddy had taken the sudden revelation of his poverty with great coolness, and Jack admired the grim resolution with which he had cut down expenses while relaxing in no whit his hold on the nonchalant beauty. Poverty would, to a certain extent, bar him out from Rose’s sumptuous world, and Rose did not seem to take him very seriously as a suitor; but it was evident that Eddy did not intend to remain poor any longer than he could possibly help it and evident, too, that his assurance in regard to sentimental ambitions had its attractions for her. They chaffed and sparred with each other and under the flippant duel there flashed now and then the encounters of a real one. Rose denied the possession of a heart, but Eddy’s wary steel might strike one day to a defenceless tenderness. She liked him, among many others, very much. And she was, as she frequently declared, in love with his mother. Jack never took Rose seriously; she remained for him a pretty, trivial, malicious child; but to-day he was pleased by the evidences of her devotion.

The little occasion, presided over by Valerie, bloomed for him. Everybody tossed nosegays, everybody seemed happy; and it was Rose, sitting in a low chair beside Mrs. Upton’s sofa, who summed it up for him with the exclamation, “I do so love being with you, Mrs. Upton! What is it you do to make people so comfortable?”

“She doesn’t do anything, people who do things make one uncomfortable,” remarked Eddy, lounging in his chair and eating sandwiches. “She is, that’s all.”

“What is she then,” Rose queried, her eyes fixed with a fond effrontery on Valerie’s face. “She’s like everything nice, I know; nice things to look at, to hear, to taste, to smell, to touch. Let us do her portrait, Eddy, you know the analogy game. What flower does she remind you of? and what food? Acacia; raspberries and cream. What musical instrument? What animal? Help me, Jack.”

“The musical instrument is a chime of silver bells,” said Jack, while Valerie looked from one to the other with amused interest. “And the animal is, I think, a bird; a bright, soft-eyed bird, that flits and poises on tall grasses.”

“Yes; that does. And now we will do you, Jack. You are like a very nervous, very brave dog.”

“And like a Christmas rose,” said Valerie, “and like a flute.”

“And the food he reminds me of,” finished Eddy, “is baked beans.”

“Good,” said Rose. “Now, Imogen. What flower is she like? Jack, you will tell us.”

Jack looked suddenly like the nervous dog, and Rose handsomely started the portrait with, “Calla lily.”

“That’s it,” Eddy agreed. “And the food she’s like is cold lemon-shape, you know the stuff I mean; and her animal,–there is no animal for Imogen; she is too loftily human.”

“Her instrument is the organ,” Rose finished, as if to end as handsomely as she had begun; “the organ playing the Pilgrims’ March from ‘Tannhauser.'”

“Excellent,” said Eddy.

These young people had done the portrait without help and after the slight pause with which their analogies were received Jack swiftly summed up Rose as _Pate-de-foie-gras_, gardenia, a piano, and a toy Pomeranian.

“Thanks,” Rose bowed; “I enjoy playing impudence to your dignity.”

“What’s Imogen up to just now?” Eddy asked, quite unruffled by Jack’s reflections on his beloved. “When did you see her last, Jack?”

“I went down for a dress-rehearsal the day before yesterday.” Jack had still the air of the nervous dog, walking cautiously, the hair of its back standing upright.

“Oh, the Cripple-Hellenic affair. How Imogen loves running a show.”

“And how well she does it,” said Rose. “What a perfect queen she would have made. She would have laid corner-stones; opened bazaars; visited hospitals, and bowed so beautifully from a carriage–with such a sense of responsibility in the quality of her smile.”

“How inane you are, Rose,” said Jack. “Nothing less queen-like, in that decorative sense, than Imogen, can be imagined. She works day and night for this thing in which you pretty young people get all the sixpences and she all the kicks. To bear the burden is all she does, or asks to do.”

“Why, my dear Jack,” Rose opened widely candid eyes, “queens have to work like fun, I can tell you. And who under the sun would think of kicking Imogen?”

“Besides,” said Eddy, rising to saunter about the room, his hands in his pockets, “Imogen isn’t so superhuman as your fond imagination paints her, my dear Jack. She knows that the most decorative role of all is just that, the weary, patient Atlas, bearing the happy world on his shoulders.”

Mrs. Upton, in her corner of the sofa, had been turning the leaves of a rare old edition, glancing up quietly at the speakers while the innocent