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  • 1907
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ripples slid on from the afternoon’s first sunny shallows to these ambiguous depths. It was now in a voice that Jack had never heard from her before that she said, still continuing to turn, her eyes downcast:

“How excessively unkind and untrue, Eddy.”

If conscious of unkindness, Eddy, at all events, didn’t resort to artifice as Rose,–Jack still smarted from it,–had done. He continued to smile, taking, up a small, milky vase to examine it, while he answered in his chill, cheerful tones: “Don’t be up in arms, mama, because one of your swans gives the other a fraternal peck. Imogen and I always peck at each other; it’s not behind her back alone that I do it. And I’m saying nothing nasty. It’s only people like Imogen who get the good works of the world done at all. If they didn’t love it, just; if they didn’t feel the delight in it that an artist feels in his work, or that Rose feels in dancing better and looking prettier than any girl in a ball-room,–that any one feels in self-realization,–why, the cripples would die off like anything.”

“It’s a very different order of self-realization”; Mrs. Upton continued to turn her leaves.

Jack knew that she was deeply displeased, and mingled with his own baffled vexation was the relief of feeling himself at one with her, altogether at one, in opposition to this implied criticism of Imogen. Together they shared the conviction–was it the only one they shared about Imogen?–that she simply cared about being good more than about anything else in the world; together they recognized such a purpose and such a longing as a high and an ennobling one.

The tone of her last remark had been final. The talk passed at once away from Imogen and turned on Jack’s last acquisitions in white porcelain and on his last piece of work, just returned from a winter exhibition. Eddy went with him into the studio to see it and Mrs. Upton and Rose were left alone. It was then that Mrs. Upton, touching the other’s shoulder so that she looked up from the fur she was fastening, said, “You are not a nice little girl, Rose.”

The “little girl” stared. Anything so suave yet so firmly intended as unpleasant had never been addressed to her. For once in her life she was at a loss; and after the stare she flushed scarlet, the tears rushing to her eyes.

“Oh, Mrs. Upton,” she faltered, “what do you mean?”

“Hitting in the dark isn’t a nice thing to do.”

“Hitting in the dark?”

“Yes. You know quite well.”

“Oh, but really, really,–I didn’t mean–” Rose almost wailed. There was no escape from those clear eyes. They didn’t look sad or angry; they merely penetrated, spreading dismay within her.

Mrs. Upton now took the flushed face between her hands and gravely considered it. “_Didn’t_ you?” she asked.

Rose could look back no longer. Before that gaze a sense of utter darkness descended upon her. She felt, helplessly, like a naughty, cowering child. Her eyes dropped and the tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Please, please forgive me. I didn’t dream you’d understand. I didn’t mean anybody to understand, except, perhaps, Eddy. I don’t know why, it’s odious of me–but Imogen does irritate me, just a little, just because she is so good, you know–so lovely.”

But this, too, Mrs. Upton penetrated. “Whether Imogen is so good and lovely that she irritates you is another matter. But, whatever you may think of her, don’t,”–and here she paused a little over the proper expressing of Rose’s misdeed,–“don’t call her a calla lily,” she found. And she finished, “Especially not before her mother, who is not so blind to your meaning as we must hope that Jack is.”

Poor Rose looked now like the naughty child after a deserved chastisement.

“Oh, I am so miserable”; this statement of smarting fact was all she found to say. “And I do care for you so. I would rather please you than any one.–Can’t you forgive me?”

But at this point the darkness was lifted, for Mrs. Upton, smiling at last, put her arms around her, kissed her, and said, “Be a nice little girl.”

XII

Imogen, during this fortnight of her mother’s absence, had time to contemplate her impressions of change.

Their last little scene together had emphasized her consciousness of the many things that lay beneath it.

Her mother had felt that the tears on that occasion were in part a result of the day’s earlier encounter, muffled though it was, over Sir Basil, and had attempted, on ground of her own choosing, to lure her child away from the seeing, not only of Sir Basil–he was a mere symbol–but of all the things where she must know that Imogen saw her as wrong.

“She wanted to blur my reason with instinct; to mesh me in the blind filial thing,” Imogen reflected. In looking back she could feel with satisfaction that her reason had dominated the scene as a lighthouse beacon shines steadily over tossing and ambiguous waters. Satisfaction was in the vision; the deep content of having, as she would have expressed it, “been true to her light.” But it was only in this vision of her own stability of soul that satisfaction lay.

In Jack’s absence, and in her mother’s, she could gage more accurately what her mother had done to Jack. She had long felt it, that something different growing vaguely in him–so vaguely that it was like nothing with a definite edge or shape, resembling, rather, a shadow of the encompassing gloom, a shadow that only her own far-reaching beams revealed. As the light hovers on the confines of the dark she had felt–a silence.

He was silent–he watched. That was the summing up of the change. He really seemed to convey to her through his silence that he understood her now, or was coming to, better than he had ever done before, better than she understood herself. And with the new understanding it was exactly as if he had found that his focus was misdirected. He no longer looked up; Imogen knew that by the fact that when, metaphorically, her eyes were cast down to meet with approbation and sweet encouragement his upturned admiration, vacancy, only, met their gaze. He no longer–so her beam pierced further and further–looked at her on a level, with the frankness of mere mutual need and trust. No; such silence, such watchfulness implied superiority. The last verge of shadow was reached when she could make out that he looked at her from an affectionate, a paternal,–oh, yes, still a very lover-like,–height, not less watchful for being tender; not less steady for being, still, rather puzzled. Beyond that she couldn’t pierce. It was indeed a limit denoting a silent revolution in their relationship. When she came to the realization, Imogen, starting back, indignant through all her being, promised herself that if he looked down she, at all events, would never lend herself to the preposterous topsy-turvydom by looking up. She would firmly ignore that shift of focus. She would look straight before her; she would look, as she spoke, the truth. She “followed her gleam.” She stood beside her beacon. And she told herself that her truth, her holding to it, might cost her a great deal.

It was not that she feared to lose him,–if she chose to keep him; but it might be that there were terms on which she would not care to keep him. If, it was still an almost unimaginable “if,” he could not, would not come once more to see clearly, then, as lover, he must be put aside, and even as friend learn that she had little use for a friendship so warped from its old attitude.

Under this stoic resolve there was growing in poor Imogen a tossing of confused pain and alarm. She could see change so clearly, but causes were untraceable, an impalpable tangle.

Why was it so? What had happened? What, above all, had her mother done to Jack?

It was all about her mother that change centered, from her that it came. It was a web, a complexity of airy filaments that met her scrutiny. Here hovered her mother’s smile, here her thoughtful, observant silences. There Sir Basil’s letter; Felkin’s departure; all the blurred medley of the times when she had talked to Jack and Mary and her mother had listened. A dimness, a haze, was over all, and she only escaped it, broke through it, when, fighting her way out to her own secure air and sunlight, she told herself,–as, at all events, the nearest truth to hand,–that it was about Jack, over him, that the web had been spun: the web of a smile that claimed nothing, yet that chained men; the web of a vague, sweet silence, that judged nothing, yet softly blighted, through its own indifference, all other people’s enthusiasms. And again and again, during these days of adjustment to the clear and the confused vision, Imogen felt the salt hot tears burning in her throat and eyes.

When Jack and her mother were both back again and he and she united in the mechanical interests of the tableaux, now imminent, the strangest loneliness lay in the fact that she could no longer share her grief, her fear, her anger, with Jack, He was there, near her; but he was, far, far away; and she must control any impulse that would draw him near.

She put him to the test; she measured his worth by his power of recognition, his power of discrimination between her mother’s instinctive allurements and her own high demand. But while with her mind and soul, as she told herself, she thus held him away, she was conscious of the inner wail of loneliness and unconscious that, under the steady resolution, every faculty, every charm she possessed, was spinning and stretching itself out to surround and hold him.

She made no appeal, but he would feel her quiet sadness weigh upon him; she made no reproach, but she knew that he could but be full of pity for her weariness, of love for her devotedness, when her pale profile bent by lamplight over all the tedious work of the tableaux; knew that her patient “Good-night, dear Jack,–I’m too tired to stay and talk,” must smite him with compunction and uneasiness.

It was no direct communication; she used symbols to convey to him the significance that he seemed to be forgetting. She took him to one of Miss Bocock’s lectures, gently disowning praise for her part in their success. She took him to the hospital for cripple children, where the nurses smiled at her and the children clambered, crutches and all, into her lap,–she knew how lovely she must look, enfolding cripple children. She took both her mother and him to her Girls’ Club on the East side, where they saw her surrounded by adoring gratitude and enthusiasm, where she sat hand in hand with her “girls,” all sympathy, all tenderness, all interest,–all the things that Jack had loved her for and that he still, of course, loved her for. Here she must seem to him like a sister of charity, carrying high her lamp of love among these dark lives. And she was careful that their reflected light should shine back upon her. “I want you to know a dear friend of mine, Jack, Miss Mc-Ginty; and this, Evangeline, is my friend, Mr. Pennington,”–so she would lead him up to one of the girls, bold and gay of eye, highly decorated of person. She knew that she left her reputation in safe hands with Evangeline. “Are you a friend of Miss Upton’s? She’s _fine_. We’re all just crazy about her.” She had, as she went from them, the satisfaction of hearing so much of Evangeline’s crude but sincere paon; they were all “just crazy” about her.

And a further shining of light suggested itself to her.

“Mamma darling,” she said, as they were going home in the clashing, clattering “elevated,” “you mustn’t think me naughty, but I had to ask them–my own particular girls–to go with us to the Philharmonic. They are becoming so interested in their music and it will be a treat for them, will really mean something in their lives, will really live for them, _in_ them.”

Mrs. Upton leaned forward to listen in the mingled uproar of banging doors and vociferous announcements from the conductor. A look of uncertainty crossed her face and Imogen hastened to add: “No, it’s not the extravagance you think. I had a splendid idea. I’m going to sell that old ring that Grandmamma Cray left me. Rose told me once that I could get a lot of money for it.”

Swiftly flushing, her brows knitted, the din about them evidently adding to her perturbation, Mrs. Upton, with a sharpness of utterance that Jack had never heard from her, said: “Your sapphire ring? Your grandmother’s ring? Indeed, indeed, Imogen, I must ask you not to do that!”

“Why, mama dear, why?” Imogen’s surprise was genuine and an answering severity was checked by Jack’s presence.

“It was my mother’s ring.”

“But what better use could I make of it, mama? I rarely wear any ring but the beautiful pearl that papa gave me.”

“I couldn’t bear to have you sell it.”

“But, mama dear, why? I must ask it. How can I sacrifice so much for a mere whim?”

“I must ask you to yield to a mere whim, then. Pray give up the thought. We will find the money in some other way.”

“Of course, mama, if you insist, I must yield,” Imogen said, sinking back in her seat beside the attentive Jack, and hoping that her mournful acquiescence might show in its true light to him, even if her mother’s sentimental selfishness didn’t. And later, when he very prettily insisted on himself entertaining the club-girls at the Philharmonic, she felt that, after all, no one but her mother had lost in the encounter. The girls were to have their concert (though they might have had many such, had not her mother so robbed them, there was still that wound) and she was to keep her ring; and she was not sorry for that, for it did go well with the pearl. Above all, Jack must have appreciated both her generous intention and her relinquishing of it. Yet she had just to test his appreciation.

“Indeed I do accept, Jack. I can’t bear to have them disappointed for a childish fancy, like that of poor mama’s, and we have no right to afford it by any other means. Isn’t it strange that any one should care more for a colored bit of stone than for some high and shining hours in those girls’ gray lives?”

But Jack said: “Oh, I perfectly understand what she felt about it. It was her mother’s ring. She probably remembers seeing it on her mother’s hand.” So Imogen had, again, to recognize the edge of the shadow.

They, all of them, Jack, Mary, and her mother, went with her and her girls to the concert. Jack had taken two boxes in the semicircle that sweeps round Carnegie Hall, overhanging the level sea of heads below. Rose Packer, just come to town, was next them, with the friends she was visiting in New York, two pretty, elaborately dressed girls, frothing with youthful high spirits, and their mother, an abundant, skilfully-girthed matron. The Langleys were very fashionable and very wealthy; their houses in America, England, Italy, their yachts and motorcars, their dances and dinners, furnished matter for constant and uplifted discourse in the society columns of the English-speaking press all over the world. Every one of Imogen’s factory girls knew them by name and a stir of whispers and nudges announced their recognition.

Mrs. Langley leaned over the low partition to clasp Mrs. Upton’s hand,–they had known each other since girlhood,–and to smile benignly upon Imogen, casting a glance upon the self-conscious, staring girls, whose clothing was a travesty of her own consummate modishness as their manners at once attempted to echo her sweetness and suavity.

“What a nice idea,” she murmured to Imogen; “and to have them hear it in the best way possible, too. Not crowded into cheap, stuffy seats.”

“That would hardly have been possible, since I do not myself care to hear music in cheap seats. What is not good enough for me is not good enough for my friends. To-day we all owe our pleasure to Mr. Pennington.”

Mrs. Langley, blandly interested in this creditable enlightenment, turned to Jack with questioning about the tableaux.

“We are all so much interested in Imogen’s interests, aren’t we? It’s such an excellent idea. My girls are so sorry that they can’t be in them. Rose tells me, Imogen, that there was some idea of your doing Antigone.”

“None whatever,” said Imogen, with no abatement of frigidity. She disapproved of leaders of fashion.

“I only meant,” Rose leaned forward, “that we wanted you to, so much,”

“And can’t you persuade her? You would look so well, my dear child. Talk her over, Valerie, you and Mr. Pennington.” Mrs. Langley looked back at her friend.

“It would hardly do just now, I think,” Valerie answered.

“But for a charity–” Mrs. Langley urged her mitigation with a smile that expressed, to Imogen’s irritated sensibilities, all the trite conformity of the mammon-server.

“I don’t think it would do,” Valerie repeated.

“Pray don’t think my motive in refusing a conventional one,” said Imogen, with an irrepressible severity that included her mother as well as Rose and Mrs. Langley. These two sank back in their seats and the symphony began.

Resting her cheek on her hand, her elbow on her knee, Imogen leaned forward, as if out of the perplexing, weary world into the sphere of the soul. She smiled deeply at one of her girls while she fell into the listening harmony of attitude, and her delicate face took on a look of rapt exaltation.

Jack was watching her, she knew; though she did not know that her own consciousness of the fact effectually prevented her from receiving as more than a blurred sensation the sounds that fell upon her ear.

She adjusted her face, her attitude, as a painter expresses an idea through the medium of form, and her idea was to look as though feeling the noblest things that one can feel. And at the end of the first movement, the vaguely heard harmony without responding to the harmony of this inner purpose, the music’s tragic acceptance of doom echoing her own deep sense of loneliness, the strange new sorrow tangling her life, tears rose beautifully to her eyes; a tear slid down her cheek.

She put up her handkerchief quietly and dried it, glancing now at Jack beside her. He was making a neat entry in a note-book, technically interested in the rendering by a new conductor. The sight struck through her and brought her soaring sadness to earth. Anger, deep and gnawing, filled her. He had not seen her tears, or, if he had, did not care that she was sad. It was little consolation for her hurt to see good Mary’s eyes fixed on her with wide solicitude. She smiled, ever so gravely and tenderly, at Mary, and turned her eyes away.

A babble of silly enthusiasm had begun in the Langley box and Rose had just effected a change of seat that brought her next to her adored Mrs. Upton and nearer her dear Mary. Imogen almost felt that hostile forces had clustered behind her back, especially as Jack turned in his chair to talk to Mary and her mother.

“Just too lovely!” exclaimed one of the younger Miss Langleys, in much the same vernacular as that used by Imogen’s _protegees_.

She looked round at these to see one yawning cavernously, on the cessation of uncomprehended sound; while another’s eyes, drowsed as if by some narcotic, sought the relief of visual interest in the late-comers who filed in below. A third sat in an attitude of sodden preoccupation, breathing heavily and gazing at the Langleys and at Rose, who wore to-day a wonderful dress. Only a rounded little Jewess, with eyes of black lacquer set in a fat, acquiline face, quite Imogen’s least favorite of her girls, showed a proper appreciation. She was as intent and as preoccupied as Jack had been.

The second movement began, a movement hurrying, dissatisfied, rising in appeal and aspiration, beaten back; turning upon itself continually, continually to rise again,–baffled, frustrated, yet indomitable. And as Imogen listened her features took on a mask-like look of gloom. How alone she was among them all.

She was glad in the third movement, her mind in its knotted concentration catching but one passage, and that given with a new rendering, to emphasize her displeasure by a little shudder and frown. An uproar of enthusiasm arose after the movement and Imogen heard one of the factory girls behind her, in answer to a question from her mother, ejaculate “_Fine!_”

When her mother leaned to her, with the same “Wasn’t it splendid?” Imogen found relief in answering firmly, “I thought it insolent.”

“Insolent? That adagio bit?”–Jack, evidently, had seen her symptoms of distress.–“Why, I thought it a most exquisite interpretation.”

“So did I,” said Mrs. Upton rather sadly from behind.

“It hurt me, mama dear,” said Imogen. “But then I know this symphony so well, love it so much, that I perhaps feel intolerantly toward new readings.”

As the next, and last, movement began, she heard Rose under her breath yet quite loud enough, murmur, “Bunkum!” The ejaculation was nicely modulated to reach her own ears alone.

With a deepened sense of alienation, Imogen sat enveloped by the unheard thunders of the final movement. Yes, Rose would hide her impertinence from others’ ears. Imogen had noted the growing tenderness, light and playful, between her mother and the girl. Behind her, presently, she rustled in all her silks as she leaned to whisper something to Mrs. Upton–“You will come and have tea with me,–at Sherry’s,–all by ourselves?” Imogen caught.

Her mother was not the initiator, but her acquiescence was an offense, and to Imogen, acutely conscious of the whispered colloquy, each murmur ran needles of anger into her stretched and vibrating nerves. At last she turned eyes portentously widened and a prolonged “Ss-s-s-h” upon them.

“People _oughtn’t_ to whisper,” Jack smiled comprehendingly at her, when they reached the end of the symphony; the rest of the movement having been occupied, for Imogen, with a sense of indignant injury.

She had caught his attention, then, with her reproof. There was sudden balm in his sympathy. The memory of the unnoticed tear still rankled in her, but she was able to smile back. “Some people will always be the money-lenders in the temple.”

At once the balm was embittered. She had trusted too much to his sympathy. He flushed his quick, facile flush, and she was again at the confines of the shadow. Really, it was coming to a pass when she could venture no least criticism, even by implication, of her mother.

But, keeping up her smile, she went on: “You don’t feel that? To me, music is a temple, the cathedral of my soul. And the chink of money, the bartering of social trivialities, jars on me like a sacrilege.”

He looked away, still with the flush. “Aren’t we all, more or less, worshipers or money-lenders by turn? My mind often strays.”

“Not to the glitter of common coin,” she insisted, urging with mildness his own better self upon him; for, yes, rather than judge her mother he would lower his own ideal. All the more reason, then, for her to hold fast to her own truth, and see its light place him where it must. If he now thought her priggish,–well, that _did_ place him.

“Oh, yes, it does, often,” he rejoined; but now he smiled at her as though her very solemnity, her very lack of humor, touched him; it was once more the looking down of the shifted focus. Then he appealed a little.

“You mustn’t be too hard on people for not feeling as you do–all the time.”

Consistency did not permit her an answer, for the next piece had begun.

When the concert was over, Mrs. Langley offered the hospitality of her electric brougham to three of them. Rose and her girls were going to a tea close by. Imogen said that she preferred walking and Jack said that he would go with her; so Mary and Mrs. Upton departed with Mrs. Langley and, the factory girls dispatched to their distances by subway, the young couple started on their way down crowded Fifth Avenue.

It was a bright, reverberating day, dry and cloudless, and, as they walked shoulder to shoulder, their heels rang metallically on the frosty pavements. Above the sloping canon of the avenue, the sky stretched, a long strip of scintillating blue. The “Flat-Iron” building towered appallingly into the middle distance like the ship prow of some giant invasion. The significance of the scene was of nothing nobly permanent, but it was exhilarating in its expression of inquisitive, adventurous life, shaping its facile ideals in vast, fluent forms.

Imogen’s face, bathed in the late sunlight, showed its usual calm; inwardly, she was drawn tight and tense as an arrow to the bow-head, in a tingling readiness to shoot far and free at any challenge.

A surface constraint was manifested in Jack’s nervous features, but she guessed that his consciousness had not reached the pitch of her own acuteness, and made him only aware of a difference as yet unadjusted between them. Indeed, with a quiet interest that she knew was not assumed, he presently commented to her on the odd disproportion between the streaming humanity and its enormous frame.

“If one looks at it as a whole it’s as inharmonious as a high, huge stage with its tiny figures before the footlights. It’s quite out of scale as a setting for the human form. It’s awfully ugly, and yet it’s rather splendid, too.”

Imogen assented.

“We are still juggling with our possibilities,” said Jack, and he continued to talk on of the American people and their possibilities–his favorite topic–so quietly, so happily, even, that Imogen felt suddenly a relaxation of the miserable mood that had held her during all the afternoon.

His comradely tone brought her the sensation of their old, their so recent, relation, complete, unflawed, once more. An impulse of recovery rose in her, and, her mind busy with the sweet imagination, she said presently, reflectively, “I think I will do your Antigone after all.”

Completely without coquetry, and sincerely innocent of feminine wiles, Imogen had always known, sub-consciously as it were, for the matter seldom assumed the least significance for her, that Jack delighted in her personal appearance. She saw herself, suddenly, in all the appealing youth and beauty of the Grecian heroine, stamping on his heart, by means of the outer manifestation, that inner reality to which he had become so strangely blind. It was to this revelation of reality that her thought clung, and an added impulse of mere tenderness had helped to bring the words to her lips. In her essential childishness where emotion and the drama of the senses were concerned, she could not have guessed that the impulse, with its tender mask, was the primitive one of conquest, the cruel female instinct for holding even where one might not care to keep. At the bottom of her heart, a realm never visited by her unspotted thoughts, was a yearning, strangely mingled, to be adored, and to wreak vengeance for the faltering in adoration that she had felt. Ah, to bind him!–to bind him, helpless, to her! That was the mingled cry.

Jack looked round at her, as unconscious as she of these pathetic and tigerish depths, but though his eye lighted with the artist’s delight in the vision that he had relinquished reluctantly, she saw, in another moment, that he hesitated.

“That would be splendid, dear,–but, can you go back on what you said?”

“Why not? If I have found reason to reconsider my first decision?”

“What reason? You mustn’t do it just to please me, you know; though it’s sweet of you, if that is the reason. Your mother, you see, agreed with you. I hadn’t realized that she would mind. You know what she said, just now.”

Jack had flushed in placing his objection, and Imogen, keeping grave, sunlit eyes upon him, felt a flush rise to her own cheeks.

“Do you feel her minding, minding in such a way, any barrier?” She was able to control the pain, the anger, that his hesitation gave her, the quick humiliation, too, and she went on with only a deepening of voice:

“Perhaps that minding of hers is part of my reason. I have no right, I see that clearly now, to withhold what I can do for our cause from any selfish shrinking. I felt, in that moment when she and Mrs. Langley debated on the conventional aspect of the matter, that I would be glad, yes, glad, to give myself, since my refusal is seen in the same category as any paltry, social scruple. It was as if a deep and sacred thing of one’s heart were suddenly dragged out and exhibited like a thickness of black at the edge of one’s note-paper.

“Will you understand me, Jack, when I say that I feel that I can in no way so atone to that sacred memory for the interpretation that was an insult; in no way keep it so safe, as by making it this offering of myself. It is for papa that I shall do it. He would have wished it. I shall think of him as I stand there, of him and of the children that we are helping.”

She spoke with her deliberate volubility, neither hesitating nor hurrying, her meaning, for all its grandiloquence of setting, very definite, and Jack looked a little dazed, as though from the superabundance of meaning.

“Yes, I see,–yes, you are quite right,” he said. He paused for a moment, going over her chain of cause and effect, seeking the particular link that the new loyalty in him had resented. And then, after the pause, finding it: “But I don’t believe your mother meant it like that,” he added.

His eyes met Imogen’s as he said it, and he almost fancied that something swordlike clashed against his glance, something that she swiftly withdrew and sheathed. It was earnest gentleness alone that answered him.

“What do you think she did mean then, Jack? Please help me to see if I’m unfair. I only long to be perfectly fair. How can I do for her, unless I am?”

His smoldering resentment was quenched by a sense of compunction and a rising hope.

“That’s dear of you, Imogen,” he said. “You _are_, I think, unfair at times. It’s difficult to lay one’s finger on it.”

“But please _do_ lay your finger on it–as heavily as you can, dear Jack.”

“Well, the simile will do for my impression. The finger you lay on _her_ is too heavy. You exaggerate things in her–over-emphasize things.”

She was holding herself, forcing herself to look calmly at this road he pointed out to her, the only road, perhaps, that would lead her back to her old place with him. “Admirable things, you think, if one saw them truly?”

“I don’t know about admirable; but warm, sweet–at the worst, harmless. I’m sure, to-day, that she only meant it for you, for what she felt must be your shrinking. Of course she had her sense of fitness, too, a fitness that we may, as you feel, overlook when we see the larger fitness. But her intention was perfectly,”–he paused, seeking an expression for the intention and repeated,–“Sweet, warm, harmless.”

Imogen felt that she was holding herself as she had never held herself.

“Don’t you think I see all that, Jack?”

“Well, I only meant that I, since coming to know her, really know her, in Boston, see it most of all.”

“And you can’t see, too, how it must stab me to have papa–papa–put, through her trivial words, into the category of black-edged paper?”

Her voice had now the note of tears.

“But she _doesn’t_,” he protested.

“Can you deny that, for her, he counts for little more than the mere question of convention?”

Jack at this was, perforce, silent. No, he couldn’t altogether deny it, and though it did not seem to him a particularly relevant truth he could but own that to Imogen it might well appear so. He did not answer her, and there the incident seemed to end. But it left them both with the sense of frustrated hope, and over and above that Jack had felt, sharper than ever before, the old shoot of weariness for “papa” as the touchstone for such vexed questions.

XIII

Mrs. Upton expressed no displeasure, although she could not control surprise, when she was informed of Imogen’s change of decision, and Jack, watching her as usual, felt bound, after the little scene of her quiet acquiescence, to return with Imogen, for a moment, to the subject of their dispute. Imogen had asked him to help her to see and however hopeless he might feel of any fundamental seeing on her part, he mustn’t abandon hope while there was a stone unturned.

“That’s what it really was,” he said to her. “You _do_ see, don’t you?–to respond to whatever she felt you wanted.”

Imogen stared a little. “Of what are you talking, Jack?”

“Of your mother Antigone–the black edge. It wasn’t the black edge.”

She had understood in a moment and was all there, as fully equipped with forbearing opposition as ever.

“It wasn’t _even_ the black edge, you mean? Even that homage to his memory was unreal?”

“Of course not. I mean that she wanted to do what you wanted.”

“And does she think, do you think, it’s _that_ I want,–a suave adaptation to ideals she doesn’t even understand? No doubt she attributes my change to girlish vanity, the wish to shine among the others. If that was what I wanted, that would be what she would want, too.”

“Aren’t you getting away from the point a little?” he asked, baffled and confused, as he often was, by her measured decisiveness.

“It seems to me that I am _on_ the point.–The point is that she cared so little about _him_–in either way.”

This was what he had foreseen that she would think.

“The point is that she cares so much for you,” he ventured his conviction, fixing his eyes, oddly deepened with this, his deepest appeal, upon her.

But Imogen, as though it were a bait thrown out and powerless to allure, slid past it.

“To gain things we must _work_ for them. It’s not by merely caring, yielding, that one wins one’s rights. Mama is a very ‘sweet, warm, harmless’ person; I see that as well as you do, Jack.” So she put him in his place and he could only wonder if he had any right to feel so angry.

The preparations for the new tableau were at once begun and a few days after their last uncomfortable encounter, Jack and Imogen were again together, in happier circumstances it seemed, for Imogen, standing in the library while her mother adjusted her folds and draperies, could but delight a lover’s eye. Mary, also on view, in her handmaiden array,–Mary’s part was a small one in the picture of the restored Alcestis,–sat gazing in admiration, and Jack walked about mother and daughter with suggestion and comment.

“It’s perfect, quite perfect,” he declared, “that warm, soft white; and you have done it most beautifully, Mrs. Upton. You are a wonderful _costumiere_.”

“Isn’t my chlamys a darling?” said Valerie happily from below, where she knelt to turn a hem.

“Mama won’t let us forget that chlamys,” Imogen said, casting a look of amusement upon her mother. “She is so deliciously vain about it.” Imogen was feeling a thrill of confidence and hope. Jack’s eyes, as they rested upon her, had shown the fondest admiration. She was in the humor, so rare with her of late, of gaiety and light assurance. And she thirsted for words of praise and delight from Jack.

“No wonder that she is vain,” Jack returned. “It has just the look of that heavenly garment that blows back from the Victory of Samothrace. The hair, too, with those fillets, you did that, I suppose.”

“Yes, I did. I do think it’s an achievement. It has the carven look that one wants. Imogen’s hair lends itself wonderfully to those long, sweeping lines.”

But, Jack, once having expressed his admiration for Imogen, seemed tactlessly bent on emphasizing his admiration for the mere craftswoman of the occasion.

“Well, it’s as if you had formed the image into which I’m to blow the breath of life. I’m really uncertain, yet, as to the best attitude.” Imogen was listening to this with some gravity of gaze. “Do take that last position we decided upon, Imogen. And do you, Mary, take the place of the faltering old Oedipus for a moment. Look down, Imogen; yes, a strong, brooding tenderness of look.”

“Ah, she gets it wonderfully,” said Valerie, still at her hem.

“Not quite deep or still enough,” Jack objected. “Stand back, Mary, please, while we work at the expression. No, that’s not it yet.”

“But it’s lovely, so. You would have found fault with Antigone herself, Jack,” Mrs. Upton protested.

“Jack is quite right, mama, pray don’t laugh at his suggestions. I understand perfectly what he means.” Imogen glanced at herself in the mirror with a grave effort to assume the expression demanded of her. “Is this better, Jack?”

“Yes–no;–no, you can’t get at all what I mean,” the young man returned, so almost pettishly that Valerie glanced up at him with a quick flush.

Imogen’s resentment, if she felt any, did not become apparent. She accepted condemnation with dignified patience.

“I’m afraid that is the best I can do now, though I’ll try. Perhaps on the day of the actual performance it will come more deeply to me. There, mama darling, that will do; it’s quite right now. I can’t put myself into it while you sew down there. I can hardly think that I’m brooding over my tragic father while I see your pins and needles. Now, Jack, is this better?” With perfect composure she once more took the suggested attitude and expression.

Mrs. Upton, her dusky flush deepened, rose, stumbling a little from her long stooping, and, steadying herself with her hand on a table, looked at the new effort.

“No,–it’s worse. It’s complacent–self-conscious,” burst from Jack. “You look as if you were thinking far more about your own brooding than about your father. Antigone is self-forgetting; absolutely self-forgetting.” So his rising irritation found impulsive, helpless expression. In the slight silence that followed his words he was aware of the discord that he had crashed into an apparent harmony. He glanced almost furtively at Mrs. Upton. Had she seen–did she guess–the anger, for her, that had broken into these peevish words? She met his eyes with her penetrating depth of gaze, and Imogen, turning to them, saw the interchange; saw Jack abashed and humble, not before her own forbearance but before her mother’s wonder and severity.

Resentment had been in her, keen and sharp, from his first criticism; nay, from his first ignoring of her claim to praise. It rose now to a flood of righteous indignation. Sweeping round upon them in her white draperies, casting aside–as in a flash she saw it–petty subterfuge and petty fear, coldly, firmly, she questioned him:

“I must ask you whether this is mere ill-temper, Jack, or whether you intentionally wish to wound me. Pray let me have the truth.”

Speechless, confused, Jack gazed at her.

She went on, gaining, as she spoke, her usual relentless fluency.

“If you would rather that some one else did the Antigone, pray say so frankly. It will be a relief to me to give up my part. I am very tired. I have a great deal to do. You know why I took up the added burden. My motives make me quite indifferent to petty, personal considerations. All that, from the first, I have had in mind, was to help, to the best of my poor ability. Whom would you rather have? Rose?–Mary?–Clara Bartlett?–Why not mama? I will gladly help any one of them with all that I have learnt from you as to dress and pose. But I cannot, myself, go on with the part if such malignant dissatisfaction is to be wreaked upon me.”

Jack felt his head rise at last from the submerging flood.

“But, Imogen, indeed,–I do beg your pardon. It was odious of me to speak so. No one can do the part but you.”

“Why say that, Jack, when you have just told me that I do it worse and worse?”

“It was only a momentary impression. Really, I’m ashamed of myself.”

“But it’s your impression that is the standard in those tableaux. How can I do the part if I contradict your conception?”

“You can’t. I was in a bad temper.”

“And why, may I ask, were you in a bad temper?”

The gaze from her serene yet awful brows was bent upon him, but under it, in a sudden reaction from its very serenity, its very awfulness, a firm determination rose in him to meet it. Turning very red but eyeing Imogen very straight: “I thought you inconsiderate, ungrateful, to your mother, as you often are,” he said.

For a long moment Imogen was silent, glancing presently at Mary–scarlet with dismay, her hastily adjusted eye-glasses in odd contrast to her classic draperies–and then turning her eyes upon her mother who, still standing near the table, was frowning and looking down.

“Well, mama dear,” she asked, “what have you to say to this piece of information? Have I, all unconsciously, been unkind? Have I been ungrateful? Do you share Jack’s sense of injury?”

Mrs. Upton looked up as though from painful and puzzling reflection. “My dear Imogen,” she said, “I think that you and Jack are rather self-righteous young people, far too prone to discussing yourselves. I think that you were a little inconsiderate; but Jack has no call to take up my defense or to express any opinion as to our relations. Of course you will do the Antigone, and of course, when he recovers his temper,–and I believe he has already,–he will be very glad that you should. And now let’s have no more of this foolish affair.”

None of them had ever heard her make such a measured, and, as it were, such a considered speech before, and the unexpectedness of it so wrought upon them that it reduced not only Jack but even the voluble Antigone to silence. But in Jack’s silence was an odd satisfaction, even an elation. He didn’t mind his own humiliation–that of an officious little boy put in a corner–one bit; for there in the corner opposite was Imogen, actually Imogen, and the sight of it gave him a shameful pleasure.

Meanwhile Mrs. Upton calmly resumed her work at the hem, finished it, turned her daughter about and pronounced it all quite right.

“Now get into warmer clothes and come down to tea, which will be here directly,” she said.

Imogen, by now, was recovered from the torpor of her astonishment.

“Mary, will you come with me, I’ll want your help.” And then, as Mary, whom alone she could count as an ally, joined her, she paused before departure, gathering her chlamys about her. “If I am silent, mama, pray don’t imagine that it is you who have silenced me,” she said. “I certainly could not think of defending myself to you. My character, with all its many faults, speaks for itself with those who understand me and what I aim at. All I ask of you, mama, is not to imagine, for a moment, that you are one of those.”

So Antigone, white, smiling, wrathful, swept away, Mary behind her, round-eyed and aghast, and Valerie was left confronting the overwhelmed Jack.

He could find not one word to say, and for some moments Valerie, too, stood silent, slipping her needle back and forth in her fingers and looking hard at the carpet.

“It’s all my fault!” Jack burst out suddenly. “Blundering, silly fool that I am! Do say that you forgive me.”

She did not look at him, but, still slipping her needle with the minute, monotonous gesture back and forth, she nodded.

“But say it,” Jack protested. “Scold me as much as you please. It’s all true; I’m a prig, I know. But say that you forgive me.”

A smile quivered on her cheek, and putting out her hand she answered: “There’s nothing to forgive, Jack. I lost my temper, too. And it’s all mere nonsense.”

He seized her hand, and then, only then, realized from something in the quiver of the smile, something muffled in the lightness of her voice, that she was crying.

“Oh!” broke from him; “oh! what brutes we are!”

She had drawn her hand from his in a moment, had turned from him while she swiftly put her handkerchief to her eyes, and after the passage of the scudding rain-cloud she confronted him clearly once more.

“Why, it’s all my fault,–don’t you know,–from the beginning,” she said.

He understood her perfectly. She had never been so near him.

“You _know_ that’s not true,” he said. And then, at last, his eyes, widely upon her, told her on which side his sympathies were enlisted in the long-drawn contest between,–not between poor Imogen and herself, that was a mere result–but between herself and her husband.

And that she understood his understanding became at once apparent to him. He had never seen her blush as she blushed then, and when the deep glow had passed she became very white and looked very weary, almost old.

“No, I don’t know it, Jack,” she said. “And you, certainly, do not. And now, dear Jack, don’t let us speak of this any more. Will you help me to clear this table for the tea-things.”

* * * * *

So this, for Imogen, was the result of her loving impulse during the frosty walk down Fifth Avenue. All her sweet, wordless appeals had been in vain. Jack had admired her as he might have admired a marionette; her beauty had meant less to him than her mother’s dressmaking; and as she sat alone in her room on that afternoon, having gently and firmly sent Mary down to tea with the ominous message that she cared for none, she saw that the shadow between her and Jack loomed close upon them now, the shadow that would blot out all their future, as a future together. And Imogen was frightened, badly frightened, at the prospect of that empty future.

Her fragrant branch of life that had bloomed so fully and freshly in her hand, a scepter and a fairy wand of beneficence, had withered to a thorny scourge for her own shoulders. She looked about her, before her. She realized with a new, a cutting keenness, that Jack was very rich and she very poor. The chill of poverty had hardly reached her as yet, the warm certainty of its cessation had wrapped her round too closely; but it reached her now, and the thought of that poverty, unrelieved, perhaps, for all her life, the thought of the comparative obscurity to which it would consign her, filled her with a real panic; and, as before, the worst part of the panic was that she should feel it, she, the scorner of material things. Suppose, just suppose, that no one else came. Everything grew gray at the thought. Charities, friends, admiration, these were poor substitutes for the happy power and pride that as a rich man’s adored wife would have been hers. And the fact that had transformed her blossoming branch into the thorny scourge was that Jack’s adored wife she would never be. His humbled, his submissive, his chastened and penitent wife,–yes, on those terms; yes, she could see it, the future, like a sunny garden which one could only reach by squeezing oneself through some painfully narrow aperture. The fountains, the flowers, the lawns were still hers–if she would stoop and crawl; and for Imogen the mere imagining of herself in such a posture brought a hot blush to her forehead. Not only would she have scorned such means of reaching the life of ample ease and rich benevolence, but they were impossible to her nature. A garden that one must crouch to enter was a prison. Better, far better, her barren, dusty, lonely life than such humiliation; such apostasy.

She faced it all often, the future, the panic, during the last days of preparation for the tableaux, days during which, with a still magnanimity, she fulfilled the tasks that she had undertaken. She would not throw up her part because her mother and Jack had so cruelly injured her; it was now for her father and for the crippled children alone that she did it.

Sitting in her bedroom with its many books and photographs, the big framed one of her father over her bed, she promised him, her eyes on his, that she would have strength to face it all, for all her life if necessary. “It was too easy, I see that now,” she whispered to him. “I had made no real sacrifices for _our_ thing. The drop of black blood had never yet been crushed out of my heart,–for when you died, it was submission that was asked of me, not sacrifice. It was easy, dear, to give myself to the work we believed in–to be tired, and strong, and glad for it–to live out bravely into the world–when you were beside me and when all the means of work were in my hand. But now I must relinquish something that I could only keep by being false to myself–to you–to the right. And I must go uphill–‘yes, uphill to the very end’–accepting poverty, loneliness, the great need of love, unanswered. But I won’t falter or forget, darling father. As long as I live I will fight our fight. Even if the way is through great darkness, I carry the light in my heart.”

The noble pathos of such soliloquies brought her to tears, but the tears, she felt, were strengthening and purifying. After drying them, after reading some of the deeply marked passages in the poets that he and she,–and, oh, alas! alas! she and Jack, lost Jack–had so often read together, she would go down-stairs, descend into the dusty, thorny arena again, feeling herself uplifted, feeling a halo of sorrowful benignity about her head. And this feeling was so assured that those who saw her at these moments were forced, to some extent, to share it.

Toward her mother, toward Jack, she showed a gentle, a distant courtesy; to Mary a heartbreaking sweetness. Mary, perhaps, needed to have pettier impressions effaced, and certain memories could but fade before Imogen’s august head and unfaltering eyes.

If she had been wrong in that strange little scene of the Antigone, Mary was convinced that her intention had been high. Jack had hurt her too much; that was it; and, besides, how could she know what had gone on behind the scenes, passages between mother and daughter that had made Imogen’s attitude inevitable. So Mary argued with herself, sadly troubled. “Oh, Imogen, please tell me,” she burst forth one day, the day before the tableaux, when she was sitting with Imogen in the latter’s room; “what is it that makes you so sad? Why are you so displeased with Jack? You haven’t given him up, Imogen!”

Imogen passed her hand softly over Mary’s hair, recalling, as she did so, that the gesture was a favorite one with her father.

“Won’t you, can’t you tell me?” Mary pleaded.

“It is so difficult, dear. Given him up? No, I never do that with people I have cared for; but he is no longer the Jack I cared for. He is changed, Mary.”

“He adores you as much as ever,–of course I’ve always known how he adored you; it made me so happy, loving you both as I do; and he still adores you I’m sure. He is always watching you. He changes color when you come into the room.”

“He, too, knows and feels what ominous destinies are hanging over us, Mary.” The deeply marked passages had been in Maeterlinck that day. “We are parted, perhaps forever, because he sees at last that I will not stoop. When one has grown up, all one’s life, straight, facing the sunrise, one cannot bend and look down.”

“_You_ stoop! Why it’s that that he would never let you do!”

“No? You think that, after the other day? _He_ has stooped, Mary, to other levels. He breathes a different air from mine now. I cannot follow him into his new world.”

“You mean?–you mean?–” Mary faltered.

Imogen’s clear eyes told her what she meant; it did not need the slow acquiescence of her head nor the articulated, “Yes, I mean mama.–Poor mama. A little person can make great sorrows, Mary.”

But now Mary’s good, limpid eyes, unfaltering and candid as a child’s, dwelt on her with a new hope. “But, Imogen, it’s just that: _is_ she so little? She isn’t like you, of course. She can’t lift and sustain, as you can. She doesn’t stand for great things, as you do and as your father did. But I seem to feel more and more how much she could be to you.–It only needs-more _understanding_; and, if that’s all, I really believe, Imogen darling, that you and Jack will be all right again. Perhaps,” Mary went on with a terrible unconsciousness, “perhaps he has come to understand, already, better than you do,–I thought that, really, the other day,–and it’s that that makes the sense of division. You are at different places of understanding. And he hasn’t to remember, and get over, all the mistakes, the faults in her past; and perhaps it’s because of that that he sees the present reality more clearly than you do. Jack is such a wonderful person for seeing the _real_ self of people.”

Imogen’s steady gaze, during this speech, continued to rest unwaveringly upon her; Mary felt no warning in it and, when she had done, waited eagerly for some echo to her faith.

But when Imogen spoke, it was in a voice that revealed to her her profound miscalculation.

“_You_ do not understand, Mary. _You_ see nothing. Her present self is her past self, unchanged, unashamed, unatoned for. It is her mistakes, her faults, that Jack now stands for. It is her mistakes and faults that _I_ must stand for, if I am to be beside him again. That would be the stooping that I meant. I fear that not only Jack but you are blinded, Mary. I fear that it is not only Jack but you that she is taking from me.” Her voice was calm, but the steely edge of an accusation was in it.

Mary sat aghast. “Taking me from you! Oh, Imogen, you don’t mean that you won’t care for me if I get fond of her!”

The crudely simple interpretation brought the blood to Imogen’s cheeks. “I mean that you can hardly be fond of us both. It is not _I_ who will cease to care.” Under the accusation was now an added note of pain and of appeal. All Mary’s faiths rallied to that appeal.

“Imogen!” she said, timidly, like the wrong-doer she felt herself to be, taking the other’s hand; “dear, brave, wonderful Imogen,–how _can_ you–how _can_ you say it! Why there is hardly any one in the world who has counted to me as you have. Why, your mother is like a sweet child beside you! She hasn’t faiths; she hasn’t that healing, strengthening thing that I’ve always so felt in you. She could never _mean_ what you do. Oh, Imogen! you won’t think such dreadful things, will you? You do forgive me if I have blundered and hurt you?”

Imogen drew in the fragrant incense with long breaths; it revived her, filled her veins with new courage, new hope. The two girls kissed solemnly. They were going out together and they presently went down-stairs hand in hand. But as an after-flavor there lingered for Imogen, like a faint, flat bitterness after the incense, a suspicion that Mary, in wafting her censer with such energy, had been seeking to fill her own nostrils, also, with the sacred old aroma, to find, as well as give, the intoxication of faith.

XIV

“Sir Basil!” Valeria exclaimed.

She rose from the tea-table, where she and Jack and Mrs. Wake were sitting, to meet the unexpected new-comer.

A gladness that Jack had never seen in her seemed to inundate her face, her figure, her outstretched hands; she looked young, she looked almost childlike, as she smiled at her friend over their clasp, and Jack saw, by the light of that transfiguration, how gray these last months must have been to her, how strangely bereft of response and admiration, how without savor or sweetness. He saw, and with the insight came a sharp stir of bitterness against the new-comer, who threw them all like this into a dull background, and, at the same time, a real echo of her gladness, that she should have it.

He actually, in the sharp, swift twist of feeling, hardly remembered Imogen’s forecasts and warnings, hardly remembered that Mrs. Upton’s gladness and Sir Basil’s beaming gaze put Imogen quite dreadfully in the right. He did not think of Imogen at all, nor of the desecration of the house of mourning by this gladness, so absorbed was he in watching it, in sharing it, and in being hurt by it.

“Mrs. Wake, of course, is an old friend,” Valerie said, leading Sir Basil up to the tea-table; “and here is a new one–Jack Pennington, whom you must quite know already, I’ve written so much about him. Sit down here. Tell me all about everything. Why this sudden appearance? Why no hint of it? Is it meant as a surprise for us?”

“Well, Frances and Tom were coming over, you knew that–“

“Of course. I wrote Frances a steamer letter the day before yesterday. You got in this morning with them then? They said not a word of your coming when I last heard from them.”

“I only decided to join them at the last minute. I thought that it would be good fun to drop upon you like this, so I didn’t write. It _is_ good to see you again.” Sir Basil, while his beam seemed to include the room and its inmates, included them unseeingly; he had eyes, it was evident, only for her. He went on to give her messages from the Pakenhams, in New York but for a week on their way to Canada and eager to see her at once. They would have come with him had they not been rather knocked up by the early rise on the steamer and by the long wait at the custom-house.

“You must all come with me to-morrow to our tableaux,” said Valerie. “Imogen is in them. She is out this afternoon, so you will see her for the first time at her loveliest. She is to be Antigone.”

“Oh, so I sha’n’t see her till to-morrow. I’ve always been a bit afraid of Miss Upton, you know,” said Sir Basil, with a smile at Jack.

“Well, the first impression will be a reassuring one,” said Valerie. “Antigone is the least alarming of heroines.”

“I don’t know about that,” Sir Basil objected, folding a slice of bread and butter, “A bit gruesome, don’t you think?”

“Gruesome?”

“She stuck so to her own ideas, didn’t she? Awfully rough on the poor fellow who wanted to marry her, insisting like that on burying her brothers.”

Valerie laughed. “Well, but that sense of duty is hardly gruesome; it would have been horridly gruesome to have left her brothers unburied.”

“You’ll worst me in an argument, of course,” Sir Basil replied, looking fondly at her; “but I maintain that she’s a dreary young lady. Of course I don’t mean to say that she wasn’t an exceedingly good girl, and all that sort of thing, but a bit of a prig, you must allow.”

Jack listened to the bantering colloquy. This man, so hard, yet so kindly, so innocent, yet so mature, was making him feel by every tone, gesture, glance, oddly boyish and unformed. He was quite sure that he himself was a great deal cleverer, a great deal more conscious, than Sir Basil; but these advantages somehow assumed the aspect of schoolboy badges of good conduct beside a grown-up standard. And, as he listened, he began to understand far more deeply all sorts of things about Valerie; to see what vacancies she had had to put up with, to see what fullness she must have missed. And he began to understand what Imogen, Cassandra-like, had declared, that the unseasonable fragrance of devotions hovered about her widowed mother; to remember the ominous “Wait and see.”

It showed how far he had traveled when he could recall these words with impatience: could answer them with: “Well, what of it? Doesn’t she deserve some compensation?”–could quietly place Sir Basil as a no longer hopeless adorer and feel a thrill of satisfaction, in the realization. Yes, sitting here here in the house of mourning he could think these things.

But if he was so wide, so tolerant, the very expansion of his sympathies brought them a finer sensitiveness. Only a tendril-like fineness could penetrate the complexities of that deeper vision. He began to think of Imogen, and with a new pity, a new tenderness. How she would be hurt, and how, more than all, she would be hurt by seeing that he, while understanding, while sympathizing, should, helplessly, inevitably, be glad that Sir Basil had come. Poor Imogen,–and poor himself; for where did he stand among all these shiftings of the scene? He, too, knew the drifting loneliness and desolation, and though his heart ached for the old nearness he could not put out his hand to her nor take a step toward her. In himself, in her, was the change, or the mere fate, that held them parted. The wrench had come slowly upon them, but, while he ached with the pain of it, he could already look upon it as accomplished. Only one question remained to be asked:–Would nothing, no change, no fate, draw them again together?

For all answer a deep, settled sadness descended upon him.

Sir Basil took himself off before Mrs. Wake seemed to think it tactful to depart, and since, soon after, she too went, Jack and Valerie were left alone together.

She turned her bright, soft eyes upon the young man and he recognized in them the unseeing quality that he had found in Sir Basil’s–that happy preoccupation with inner gladness. She made him think of the bird alighted to sing on the swaying blade; and she made him think of a fountain released from winter and springing through sunlight in a murmur and sparkle of ecstasy. She was young, very young; he almost felt her as young in her gladness as he in his loneliness and pain. Smiling a trifle nervously, he said that he was glad, at last, to see something of her old life. “Of your real life,” he added.

“My real life?” she repeated, and her look became more aware of him.

“Yes. Of course, in a sense, all this is something outlived, cast aside, for you. You’ve only taken it up for a bit while you felt that it had a claim upon you; but, once you have settled things, you would,–you would leave us, of course,” said Jack, still smiling.

She was thinking of him now, no longer of herself and of Sir Basil, and perhaps, as she looked at him, at the thin brown face, the light, deep eyes, she guessed at a stir of tears under the smile. It was then as if the fountain sank from its own happy solitude and became a running brook of sweetness, sad, yet merry. She didn’t contradict him. She was sorry that she couldn’t, yet glad that his statement should be so obviously true.

“You mean that I’ll go back to my little Surrey cottage, when I settle things?” she said. “Perhaps, yes. And you will miss me? I will miss you too, dear Jack. But we will often see each other. And then it may take a long time to settle all you young people.”

Her confidence so startled him, so touched him with pity for its blindness, that, swiftly, he took refuge in ambiguity.

“Oh, you’ll settle us!” he said, wondering in what that settling would consist, wondering what would happen if Imogen, definitely casting him off, to put the final settling in that form, were left on her mother’s hands. She would have to settle Imogen in America and what, in the meanwhile, would become of her “real” life?

But from the mother’s confidence, her radiance, that accepted his speech in its happiest meaning, he guessed that she didn’t foresee such a contingency; he even guessed that, were she brought face to face with it, she wouldn’t accept its unsettling of her own joy as final. The fountain was too strong to heed such obstacles. It would find its way to the sunlight. Imogen, in time, would have to accept a step-father.

XV

Jack did not witness the revelation to Imogen of the ominous arrival, but from her demeanor at lunch next day he could guess at how it had impressed her. He felt in her an intense, a guarded, excitement, and knew that the news had fallen upon her with a tingling concussion. The sound of the thunder-bolt must reverberate all the louder in Imogen’s ears from her consciousness that to Mary’s it was soundless, Mary, who had been the only spectator of its falling. Her mother, too, was unconscious of such reverberations, so that it must seem to her a ghost-like subjective warning, putting into audible form all her old hauntings.

That she at once sought in him evidences of the same experience, Jack felt, and all through the early lunch, where they assembled prior to his departure with the two girls for the theater, he avoided meeting Imogen’s eyes. He was too sure that she felt their mutual knowledge as a bond over the recent chasm. The knowledge in his own eyes was far too deep for him to allow her to wade into it; she would simply drown. He was rather ashamed of himself, but he resolutely feigned a cheerful unconsciousness.

“You are going with your friends, later?” he asked Valerie, who, he was quite sure, also feigning something, said that since Imogen and Mary dressed each other so well, and since he would be there to see that every detail was right, she, with the Pakenhams and Sir Basil, would get her impression from the stalls. Afterward, they would all meet here for tea.

“It was a surprise, you know, their coming,” Imogen put in suddenly, from her end of the table, fixing strangely sparkling eyes upon Jack.

“No,” said her mother, in tones of leisurely correction, “I expected the Pakenhams, as I told you.”

“Oh, yes; it was only Sir Basil’s surprise. You didn’t expect him. Does he like playing surprises on people, mama?”

“I don’t know that he does.”

“He only plays them on you.”

“I knew that he was coming, at some time.”

“Ah, but you didn’t tell me that; it was, in the main, _my_ surprise, then; but not so soon, I suppose.”

“So soon? So soon for what?”

Imogen, at this, allowed her badly adjusted mask of lightness to fall and a sudden solemnity overspread her features.

“Don’t you feel it rather soon for friends to play pranks, mama?”

The words seemed to erect a catafalque before their eyes, but, facing the nodding blackness with a calm in which Jack detected the glint of steel, Valerie answered: “I am not aware that they have been playing pranks.”

For all the way to the theater Imogen again assumed the mask, talking exclusively to Mary. She talked of these friends of her mother’s, of Sir Basil, Mr. and Mrs. Pakenham, what she had heard of them; holding up, as if for poor, frightened Mary’s delectation, an impartial gaily sketched little portrait of their oddities. It was as if she felt it her duty to atone to Mary by her lightness and gaiety for the gloom that had overspread the lunch; as if she wished to assure Mary that she wouldn’t allow her to suffer for other people’s ill-temper,–Mrs. Upton had certainly been very silent for the rest of that uncomfortable meal,–as if it were for Mary’s sake that she were assuming the mask, behind which, as Jack must know, she was in torture.

“I’m glad you’re to see them, Mary darling; they will amuse you. From your standpoint of reality, the standpoint of Puritan civilization–the deepest civilization the world has yet produced; the civilization that judges by the soul–you will be able to judge and place them as few of our people are, as yet, developed enough to do. They are of that funny English type, Mary, the leisured; their business in life that of pleasure seeking; their social service consisting in benevolent domination over the servile classes beneath them. Oh, they have their political business, too; we mustn’t be unfair; though that consists, in the main, for people of their type, in maintaining their own place as donors and in keeping other people in the place of recipients. In their own eyes, I’m quite sure, they are useful, as upholding the structure of English civilization. You’ll find them absolutely simple, absolutely self-assured, absolutely indifferent, quite charming,–there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be; but their good manners are for themselves, not for you,–one must never forget that with the English. Do study them, Mary. We need to keep the fact of them clearly before us, for what they represent is a menace to us and to what we mean. I sometimes think that the future of the world depends upon which ideal is to win, ours or the English. We must arm ourselves with complete comprehension. Already they have infected the cruder types among us.”

These were all sentiments that in the past, Mary felt sure, Jack must have acquiesced in and approved of, and yet she felt surer that Imogen’s manner of enunciating them was making Jack very angry. She herself did not find them as inspiring as she might have expected, and looking very much frightened and flurried she murmured that as she was to go back to Boston next day she would not have much opportunity for all this observation. “Besides–I don’t believe that I’m so–so wise–so civilized, you know, as to be able to see it all.”

“Oh, Imogen will tell you what to see!” said Jack.

“It’s very kind of her, I’m sure,” poor Mary faltered. She could have burst into tears. These two!–these beloved two!

Meanwhile, at a little later hour, Valerie and Mrs. Wake made their way to the theater, there to meet the group of friends from whom they had parted in England six months before.

The Pakenhams, full of question and comment, were intelligently amassing well-assorted impressions of the country that was new to them. Sir Basil, though cheerfully pleased with all to which his attention was drawn, showed no particular interest in his surroundings. His concentration was entirely for his regained friend.

After her welcoming radiance of the day before, Valerie looked pale and weary, and when, with solicitude, he asked her whether she were not tired, she confessed to having slept badly.

“She’s changed, you know,” Sir Basil said to Mrs. Pakenham, when they were settled in their seats, and Valerie, beside him, was engaged in pointing out people to Tom Pakenham. “It’s been frightfully hard on her, all this, I’m sure.”

“She’s as charming as ever,” said Mrs. Pakenham.

“Oh, well, that could never change. But what a shame that she should have had, all along, such a lot to go through.” Sir Basil, as a matter of course, had the deepest antipathy for the late Mr. Upton.

The tableaux struck at once the note of success. Saved by Jack’s skill from any hint of waxwork or pantomime, their subtle color and tranquil light made each picture a vision of past time, an evocation of Hellenic beauty and dignity.

Cassandra in her car–her face (oh, artful Jack!) turned away,–awful before the door of Agamemnon; Iphigenia, sleeping, on her way to the sacrifice; Helen, before her husband and Hecuba; Alcestis, returning from the grave, and Deianira with the robe. The old world of beauty and sorrow, austere and lovely in its doom, passed before modern eyes against its background of sky, grove, and palace steps.

“And now,” said Valerie, when the lights sprang out for the interval, “now for your introduction to Imogen. They have made her the climax, you see.”

“He did, you mean. The young man.”

“Yes, Jack arranged it all.”

“He’s the one you wrote of, of course, who admires her so tremendously.”

“He is the one.”

“In fact he’ll carry her off from you some day, soon, eh?” Sir Basil ventured with satisfaction in his own assurance. He, too, felt that Imogen must be “settled.”

“I suppose so,” said Valerie. “I couldn’t trust her to any one more happily. He understands her and cares for her absolutely.”

Sir Basil at this ventured a little further, voicing both satisfaction and anxiety with: “So, then, you’ll come back–to–to Surrey.”

“Yes, then, I think, I can come back to Surrey,” Valerie replied.

The heart of her feeling had always remained for him a mystery, and her acquiescence now might mean a great deal, everything, in fact, or it might mean only her gliding composure before a situation that she had power to form as she would. He could observe that her color rose. He knew that she blushed easily. He knew, too, that his own feeling was not hidden from her and that the blush might be for her recognition only; yet he was occupied with the most hopeful interpretations when the curtain rose. A moment after its rising Valerie heard him softly ejaculate, “I say!” She could have echoed the helplessly rudimentary, phrase. She, too, gazed, in a stupor of delight; a primitive emotion in it. The white creature standing there before them, with her forward poise, her downcast yet upgazing face, was her child. Valerie, since her return to her home, had given little time to analysis of her own feeling, the stress of her situation had been too intense for leisurely self-observation. But in the upwelling of a strange, a selfless, joy she knew, now, how often she had feared that all the joy of maternity was dead in her; killed, killed by Imogen.

The joy now was a passing ray. The happy confusion of admiration, wonder, and pride was blotted out by the falling gloom of reality. It was her child who stood there, but the bond between them seemed, but for the ache of rejected maternity at her heart, a pictorial one merely. Tears of bitterness involuntarily filled her eyes as she looked, and Imogen’s form seemed to waver in a dim, an alien atmosphere.

When the curtain fell on the Antigone who kept her pose without a tremor, the uproar of applause was so great that it had to rise, not only twice, but three times. At the last, a faint wavering shook slightly the Antigone’s sculptured stillness and poor old Oedipus rocked obviously upon his feet.

“What a shame to make her keep it up for so long!” murmured Sir Basil, his face suffused with sympathy. The symptom of human weakness was a final touch to the enchantment.

“Well, it makes one selfish, such loveliness!” said Mrs. Pakenham, flushed with her clapping. “Valerie, dear, she is quite too lovely!”

“Extraordinarily Greek, the whole thing,” said Tom Pakenham; “the comparative insignificance of facial expression and the immense significance of attitude and outline.”

“But the face!” Sir Basil turned an unseeing eye upon him, still wrapped, it was evident, in the vision that, at last, had disappeared. “The figure is perfect; but the face,–I never saw anything so heavenly.”

Indeed, in its slightly downcast pose, the trivial lines of Imogen’s nose and chin had been lost; the up-gazing eyes, the sweep of brow and hair, had dominated and transfigured her somewhat tamely perfect countenance.

“Do you know, I’m more afraid of her than ever,” said Sir Basil to Valerie on their way home to tea, in the cab. “I wasn’t really afraid before. I could have borne up very well; but now–it’s like knowing that one is to have tea with a seraph.”

Jack, Imogen, and Mary were not yet arrived when they reached the house; but by the time the tea was on the table and Valerie in her place behind the urn, they heard the cab drive up and the feet of the young people on the stairs.

Jack entered alone, saying that Mary and Imogen were gone to take off their wraps. Yes, he assured Valerie, they had promised to keep on their Grecian robes for tea.

Valerie introduced him to the Pakenhams and led the congratulations on his triumph. “For it really is yours, Jack, as much as if you had painted the whole series of pictures.”

Jack, looking shy, turned from one to the other as they seconded her enthusiasm,–Mrs. Pakenham, with her elaborately formal head and china-blue eyes; her husband, robust and heavy; Sir Basil, still with his benignant, unseeing quality. Among them all, in spite of Mrs. Wake’s keen, familiar visage, in spite of Valerie’s soft glow, he felt himself a stranger. He even felt, with a little stab of ill-temper, that there had been truth in Imogen’s diagnosis. They were kindly, but they were tremendously indifferent. They didn’t at all expect you to be interested in them; but that hardly atoned for the fact that they weren’t interested in you. For Jack, life was made up of vigilant, unceasing interest, in himself and in everybody else.

“Ah, were they all taken from your pictures?” Sir Basil asked him, strolling up to the mantelpiece to examine a photograph of Imogen that stood there.

Jack explained that he could claim no such gallery of achievement. He had made a few sketches for each tableau; his work had been, in the main, that of stage-manager.

“Oh, I see,” said Sir Basil, not at all abashed by his blunder. “Nicer than lay figures to work with, eh? all those pretty young women.”

“I don’t use lay figures, at any time. I’m a landscape painter,” Jack explained, somewhat stiffly. He surmised that had he been introduced as Velasquez Sir Basil would have been quite as unmoved, just as he would have been quite as genially inclined had he been introduced as a scene-painter.

“I used to think I’d go in for something of that sort in my young days,” said Sir Basil, holding Imogen’s photograph; “and I dabbled a bit in water-color for a time. Do you remember that little sketch of the Hall, done from the beech avenue, Mrs. Upton? Not so bad, was it?”

“Not at all bad,” said Valerie; “but we can’t use such negatives for Jack’s work. It’s very seriously good, you know. It’s anything but dabbling.”

“Oh, yes; I know that you are a real artist,” Sir Basil smiled at Jack from the photograph. “This doesn’t do her justice, does it?”

“Imogen? No; it’s a frightful thing,” said Jack over-emphatically.

Mrs. Pakenham asked to see it and pronounced that, for her part, she thought it excellent.

“You ought to paint her portrait,” Sir Basil continued, looking at Jack, who had, once more, to explain that landscape was his only subject. He guessed from the something at once benign and faintly quizzical in Sir Basil’s regard, that to all these people he was significant, in the main, as Imogen’s lover, and the intuition vexed him still further.

Imogen’s entrance, startling in its splendid incongruity, put an end to his self-consciousness and absorbed him in contemplation.

Imogen revealed herself newly, even to him, to-day. It wasn’t the old Imogen of stateliness, graciousness, placidity, nor the later one of gloom and anger. This Imogen, lovely, with her flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes, was deeply excited, deeply self-forgetful. She, too, was absorbed in her intense curiosity, her feverish watchfulness.

She said nothing while her mother introduced her to the new-comers, who all looked a little taken aback, as though the resuscitated Grecian heroine were indeed among them, and stood silently alert near the tea-table, handing the cups of tea, the cakes and scones, for Jack and Sir Basil to pass round. Her arms were bare and her slender bare feet, laced with gold-clasped fastenings, showed on her white sandals. Jack saw that Sir Basil’s eyes were fixed on her with an expression of wonder.

He asked her, as he took the last cup from her, if she were not cold, and, gentle, though unsmiling, Imogen replied, “Oh, no!” glancing at the roaring wood fire, that illuminated her whiteness as if with a sacrificial glow.

“Do sit down and have your tea, Imogen; you must be very tired,” her mother said, with something of the chill that the scene at the lunch-table had diffused still in her voice.

“Not very, thanks, mama dear,” said Imogen; and, more incongruous in loveliness than before, she sat down in a high-backed chair at some little distance from the tea-table. Sir Basil, as if with a sort of helplessness, remained beside her.

“Yes, it was a great success, wasn’t it?” Jack heard her replying presently, while she drank the tea with which Sir Basil had eagerly supplied her. “I’m so glad.”

“You liked doing it, didn’t you? You couldn’t have done it, like that–looked like that, if you hadn’t cared a lot about it,” Sir Basil pursued.

Imogen smiled a little and said that she didn’t know that she had liked doing her part particularly,–it was of her crippled children that she was thinking. “We’ll be able to get the Home now,” she said.

“It was for cripple children?”

“Didn’t you know? I should have thought mama would have told you. Yes, it all meant that, only that, to me. We gave the tableaux to get enough money to buy a country home for them.”

“You go in a lot for good works, I know,” said Sir Basil, and Imogen, smiling again, with the lightness rooted in excitement, answered: “They go in for me, rather. All the appeals of suffering seem to come to one and seize one, don’t they? One never needs to seek causes.”

Jack watched them talk, Imogen, the daughter of the dead, rejected husband, and Sir Basil, her mother’s suitor.

Mary had come in now, late from changing her dress, which at the last moment she had felt too shy to appear in. She was talking to Mrs. Wake and the Pakenhams.

Standing, a somewhat brooding onlooker, becoming conscious, indeed, of the sense, stronger than ever, of loneliness and bereavement, he heard Mrs. Upton near him say, “Sit down here, Jack.”

She showed him a chair beside her, in the corner, between her tea-table, the window, and the fire. She, too, was for the moment isolated; she, too, no doubt, had been watching; and now she talked to him, not at all as if she had felt that he were lonely and were making it up to him, but, once more, like the child happily gathering and holding out nosegays to another child.

A controlled excitement was in her, too; and he felt still that slight strain of the lunch-table, as if Imogen’s catafalque had marred some too-trustful assurance; but a growing warmth was diffused through it, and, as her eyes turned once or twice on Imogen and Sir Basil, he saw the cause.

The possibility that her daughter might make friends with her suitor, the solvent, soothing possibility that, if realized, would so smooth her path, had come to her. And in their quiet fire-lit corner, shut the closer into their isolation by the talk that made only a confused murmur about them, he felt a new frankness in her, as though the hope of the hour effaced ominous memories and melted her reserves and discretions, making it wholly natural to draw near him in the implied avowal of shared outlooks.

“I believe that Imogen and Sir Basil are going to get on together,” she said; “I believe that she likes him already. I so want them to be friends. He is such a friend of mine.”

“They look friendly,” said Jack; “I think I can always tell when Imogen is going to like people.” He did not add that, with his new insight about Imogen, he had observed that it was people over whom she had power that Imogen liked. And already he seemed to see that Imogen would have some sort of power over Sir Basil.

“And I can always tell when he is going to like people. He thinks her wonderful,” said Valerie. She exchanged her knowledge with him; it was touching, the way in which, blind to deep change in him, she took for granted his greater claim to the interpretation of Imogen. She added: “It is a very propitious beginning, I think.”

“How long is Sir Basil going to stay here?” Jack asked.

“All summer. He goes to Canada with the Pakenhams, and out to the West, for a glimpse of the changes since he was here years and years ago; and then I want him to come to Vermont, to us. You and Imogen will both get to know him well there. Of course you are coming; Imogen told me that she asked you long ago.”

“Yes; I shall enjoy that immensely,” the young man answered, with, for his own consciousness, a touch of irrepressible gloom. He didn’t look forward to the continuation of the drama, to his own lame and merely negative part in it, at the close quarters of a house-party among the Vermont hills.

And as if Valerie bad felt the inner doubt she added suddenly, on a different key, “You really will enjoy it, won’t you?”

He looked up at her. Her face, illuminated by the firelight, though dimmed against the evening blue outside, was turned on him with its sudden intentness and penetration of gaze.

“Why, of course,” he almost stammered, confused by the unexpected scrutiny.

“I shall love having you, you know,” she said.

“I shall love being with you,” he answered, now without a single inner reserve.

Her intentness seemed to soften, there was solicitude and a sort of persuasiveness in it. “And you will have a much better chance of really adjusting things there–your friendship with Imogen, I mean. The country smoothes things out. Things get sweet and simple.”

He didn’t know what to say. Her mistake, if it were one, was so inevitable.

“Imogen will have taken her bearings by then,” she went on. “She has had so much to get accustomed to, to bear with, poor child; her great bereavement, and–and a mother who, in some ways, must always be a trial to her.”

“Oh, a trial!”–Jack lamely murmured.

“I recognize it, Jack. I think that you do. But when she makes up her mind to me, and discovers that, at all events, I don’t interfere with anything that she really cares about, she will be able to take up all her old threads again.”

“I–I suppose so,” Jack murmured.

He had dropped his eyes, for he knew that hers were on him. And now, in a lowered voice, he heard her say, “Jack, I hope that you will help me with Imogen.”

“Help you? How do you mean?” startled, he looked up.

“You know. Interpret me to her now and then, when you can, with kindliness. You understand me so much more kindly than she does.”

His eyes fixed on hers, deeply flushing–“Oh, but,”–he breathed out with almost a long sigh,–“that’s what I have done, you see, ever since–“

“Ever since what?”

“Since I came to understand you so much better than she does.”

There was a long pause now and, the firelight flickering low, he could hardly see her face. But he recognized change in her voice as she said: “You have? I don’t mean, you know, taking my side in disputes.”

“I know; I don’t mean that, either, though, perhaps, I can’t help doing it; for,” said Jack, “it’s on your side that I am, you know.”

The change in her voice, but controlled, kept down, she answered quickly,

“Ah, but, dear Jack, I don’t want to have a side. It’s that that I want her to realize. I want her to feel that my side is hers. I want you to help me in making her feel it.”

“But she’ll never feel it!” Jack breathed out again. Behind the barrier of the tea-table, in the flickering dimness, they were speaking suddenly with a murmuring, yet so sharp a confidence; a confidence that in broad daylight, or in complete solitude, might have seemed impossible. All sorts of things must steal out in that persuasive, that peopled yet solitary, twilight.

He knew that Valerie’s eyes dwelt on him with anxiety and that it was with a faint, forced smile that she asked him: “She doesn’t think that I’ll ever reach her side?”

“_I_ don’t believe you ever will,” said Jack. Then, for he couldn’t bear that she should misunderstand him for another moment, misunderstanding when they had come so far was too unendurable, he went on in a hurried undertone: “You aren’t on her side, really. You can never be on her side. You can never be like her, or see like her. And I don’t want you to. It’s you who see clearly, not she. It’s you who are all right.”

Her long silence, after this, seemed to him like the hovering of hands upon him; as though, in darkness, she sought by touch to recognize some strange object put before her.

“But then,–” she, too, only breathed it out at last,–“but then,–you are not on _her_ side.”

“That’s just it,” said Jack. He did not look at her and she was silent once more before his confession.

“But,” she again took up the search, “that is terrible for her, if she feels it.”

“And for me, too, isn’t it?” he questioned, as if he turned the surfaces of the object beneath her fingers.

The soft, frightened hover seemed to go all over it, to recognize it finally, and to draw back, terrified, from recognition.

“Most terrible of all for me, if I have come between you,” she said.

Her pain pierced him so, that he put out his hand and took hers. Don’t think that; you mustn’t think that, not for a moment. It’s not that you came between us. It’s only that, because of you, I began to see things–as I hadn’t seen them. It was just,–well, just like seeing one color change when another is put beside it. Imogen’s blue, now that your gold has come, is turned to green; that’s all that has happened.”

“All that has happened! Do you know what you are saying, Jack! If my gold were gone, would the blue come back again?”

“The blue will never come back,” said Jack.

He felt, as her hand tightened on his, that he would have liked to put his head down on her knees and sob like a little boy; but when she said, “And the green you cannot care for?” his own hand tightened as if they clutched some secret together, some secret that neither must dare look at. “You mustn’t think that–you mustn’t. And I mustn’t.” He said it with all the revolt and all the strength of his will and loyalty; with all his longing, too. “The real truth is that the green can’t care for me unless I will see it back to blue again–and as I can’t do that, and as it won’t accept my present vision, there is a sort of dead-lock.”

For a long moment her hand continued to grasp his, before, as if taking in the ambiguous comfort of his final definiteness, it relaxed and she drew it away.

“Perhaps she will care enough,” she said.

“To accept my vision? To forego blue? To consent that I shall see her as green?”

“Yes, when she has taken up all the threads.”

“Perhaps she will,” said Jack.

XVI

It was a few days after this, just before Jack’s return to Boston–and the parting now was to be until they met in Vermont–that he and Imogen had another walk, another talk together.

The mid-May had become seasonably mild and, at Jack’s suggestion, they had taken the elevated cars up to Central Park for the purpose of there seeing the wistaria in its full bloom.

They strolled in the sunlight under arbors rippling all over with the exquisite purple, dark and pale, the thin fine leaves of a strange olive-green, the delicate tendrils; they passed into open spaces where, on gray rocks, it streamed like the tresses of a cascade; it climbed and heaped itself on wayside trellises and ran nimbly, in a shower of fragile color, up the trunks, along the branches, of the trees. Jack always afterward associated the soft, falling purple, the soft, languorous fragrance, the almost uncanny beauty of the wistaria, with melancholy and presage.

Imogen, for the first time since her father’s death, showed a concession to the year’s revival in a transparent band of white at her neck and wrists. Her little hat, too, was of transparent black, its crape put aside. But, though she and the day shared in bloom and youthfulness, Jack had never seen her look more heavily bodeful; had never seen her eyes more fixed, her lips more cold and stern. The excitement that he had felt in her was gone. Her curiosity, her watchfulness, had been satisfied, and grimly rewarded. She faced sinister facts. Jack felt himself ready to face them, too.

They had spoken little in the clattering car, and for a long time after they reached the park and walked hither and thither among its paths, following at random the beckoning purple of the wistaria, neither spoke of anything but commonplaces; indicating points of view, or assenting to appreciations. But Imogen said at last, and he knew that with the words she led him up to those facts: “Do you remember, Jack, the day we met mama, you and I, on the docks?”

Jack replied that he did.

“What a different day from this,” said Imogen, “with its frosty glory, its challenge, its strength.”

“Very different.”

“And how different our lives are,” said Imogen.

He did not reply for some moments, and it was then to say gently that he hoped they were not so different as, perhaps, they seemed.

“It is not I who have changed, Jack,” said Imogen, looking before her. And going on, as though she wished to hear no reply to this: “Do you remember how we felt as the steamer came in? We determined that _she_ should change nothing, that we wouldn’t yield to any menace of the things we were then united in holding dear. It’s strange, isn’t it, to see how subtly she has changed everything? It’s as if our frosty, sparkling landscape, all wind and vigor and discipline, were suddenly transformed to this,–” Imogen looked about her at the limpid day,–“to soft yielding, soft color, soft perfume,–it’s like mama, that fragrance of the wistaria,–to something smiling, languid, alluring. This is the sort of day on which one drifts. Our past day was a day of steering.”

As much as for the meaning of her careful words, Jack felt rising in him an anger against the sense of a readiness prepared beforehand. “You describe it all very prettily, Imogen,” he answered, mastering the anger. “But I don’t agree with you.”

“You seldom do now, Jack. Perhaps it’s because I’ve remained in my own climate while you have been borne by the ‘warm, sweet, harmless’ current into this one.”

“I am not conscious of any tendency to drift, Imogen. I still steer. I intend, very firmly, always to steer.”

“To what, may I ask?”

He was silent for a moment; then said, lifting eyes in which she read all that new steeliness of opposition, with, yet, in it, through it, the sadness of hopeless appeal: “I believe in all our ideals–just as I used to.”

To this Imogen made no rejoinder.

“Do you like Sir Basil?” she asked presently, after, for some time, they had turned along the windings of a long path in a heavy silence.

“I’ve hardly seen him.” Jack’s voice had a forced lightness, as though for relief at the change of subject; but he guessed that the change was only apparent. “He is very nice; very delightful looking.”

“Yes; very delightful looking. Do you happen to remember what I said to you about him, long ago, in the winter? About him and mama?”

“Yes”; Jack flushed; “I remember.”

“I told you to wait.”

“Yes; you told me to wait.”

“You will own now, I hope, that I was right.”

“Right in thinking that he–that they were more than friends?”

“Right in thinking that he was in love with her; that she allowed it.”

“I suppose you were right.”

“I was right. And it’s more than that now. I have every reason to believe that she intends to marry him.”

He ignored her portentous pause and drop of the voice, walking on with downcast eyes. “You mean, it’s an accepted thing?”

“Oh, no! not yet accepted. Mama respects the black edge, you know. But I heard Mrs. Wake and Mrs. Pakenham talking about it.”

“Heard? How could you have heard?” Jack’s eyes, stern with accusation, were now upon her.

It was impossible for Imogen to lie consciously, and though she had not, in her eagerness that he should own her right and share her reprobation, foreseen this confrontation, she held, before it, all the dignity of full sincerity.

“You are changed, indeed, Jack, when you can suspect me of eavesdropping! I was asleep on the sofa in the library, worn out with work, and I woke to hear them talking in the next room, with the door ajar. I did not realize, for some moments, what was being said. And then they went out.”

“Of course I don’t suspect you; of course I don’t think that you would eavesdrop; though I do hate–hearing,” Jack muttered.

“I hope you realize that I share your hatred,” said Imogen. “But your opinion of me is not, here, to the point. I only wish to put before you what I have now to bear, Mrs. Pakenham said that she wagered that before the year was out Sir Basil would have married mama.” Imogen paused, breathing deeply.

Jack walked on beside her, not knowing what to say. “I think so, too, and wish her joy,” would have been the truest rendering of his feeling.

He curbed it to ask cautiously, “And you mind so much?”

“Mind!” she repeated, a thunderous echo.

“You dislike it so?”

“Dislike? You use strangely inapt words.”

He had another parenthetic shoot of impatience with her dreadful articulateness; had Imogen always talked so much like the heroine of a novel with a purpose?

“I only meant–can’t you put up with it?”

“Put up with it? Can I do anything else? What power have I over her? You don’t seem to understand. I have passed beyond caring that she makes herself petty, ridiculous; as a woman of her age must in marrying again–the clutch of fading life at the happiness it has forfeited. Let her clutch if she chooses; let her marry if she chooses, whom she chooses, yes, when she chooses. But don’t you see how it shatters my every hope of her,–my every ideal of her? And don’t you see how my heart is pierced by the presence of that man in my father’s house, the house that she abandoned and cast a shadow upon? How filled with bitter shame and anguish I am when I see him there, in that house, sacred to my grief and to my memories–making love to my mother?”

No, really, never, never had he heard Imogen so fluent and so dramatically telling; and never had he been so unmoved by the feeling under the fluency. It was as if he could believe in none.

He remained silent and Imogen continued: “When she came back, I believed that it was with an impulse of penitence; with the wish, shallow though I knew that it must be in such a nature, to atone to me for the ruin that she had made in his life. I was all tenderness and sympathy for her, all a longing to help and sustain her–as you must remember. But now! It fulfils all that I had feared and suspected in her–and more than all! She left England, she came here, that the conventions might be observed; and, considering them observed enough for her purpose, she receives her suitor, eight months after my father’s lonely death,-in the house where _my_ heart breaks and bleeds for him, where _I_ mourn for him, where _I_–alone, it seems–feel him flouted and betrayed! And she talks of her love for me!”

Jack was wondering that her coherent passion did not beat him into helpless acquiescence; but, instead, he found himself at once replying, “You don’t see fairly. You exaggerate it all. She was unhappy with your father. For years he made her unhappy. And now, if she can care for a man who can make her happy, she has a right, a perfect right, to take her happiness. As for her loving you, I don’t believe that any one loves you more truly. It’s your chance, now, to show your love for her.”

Imogen stood still and looked at him from the black disk of her parasol.

“I think I’ve suspected this of you, too, Jack,” she said. “Yes, I’ve suspected, in dreadful moments of revelation, how far your undermining has gone. And you say you are not changed!”

“Would you ask your mother never to marry again?”

“I would–if she were in any way to redeem her image in my eyes. But, granting to the full that one must make concessions to such creatures of the senses, I would ask her, at the very least, to have waited.”

“Creatures of the senses!” Jack repeated in a helpless gasp; such words, in their austere vocabulary, were hardly credible. “Do you know what you are saying, you arrogant, you heartless girl?”

Her face seemed to flash at him like lightning from a black cloud, and with the lightning a reality that had lacked before to leap to her voice:

“Ah! At last–at last you are saying what you have felt for a long time! At last I know what you think of me! So be it! I don’t retract one jot or tittle of what I say. Mama is a perfectly moral woman, if you actually imagine some base imputation; but she lives for the pleasant, the pretty, the easy. She doesn’t love this man’s soul–nor care if he has one. Her love for him is a parody of the love that my father taught me to understand and to hold sacred. She loves his love for her; his ‘delightful’ appearance. She loves his place and name and all the power and leisure of the life he can give her. She loves the world–in him; and in that I mean and repeat that she is a creature of the senses. And if, for this, you think me arrogant and heartless, you do not trouble in one whit my vision of myself, but you do, forever, mar my vision of you.”

They stood face to face in the soft sweet air under an arch of wistaria; it seemed a place to plight a troth, not to break one; but Jack knew that, if he would, he could not have kept the truth from her. It held him, looked from him; he was, at last, inevitably, to speak it.

“Imogen,” he said, “I don’t want to talk to you about your mother; I don’t want to defend her to you; I’m past that. I’ll say nothing of your summing up of her character,–it’s grotesque, it’s piteous, such assurance! But I do tell you straight what I’ve come to feel of you–that you are a cold-blooded, self-righteous, self-centered girl. And I’ll say more: I think that your bringing-up, the artificiality, the complacent theory of it, is your best excuse; and I think that you’ll never find any one so generous and so understanding of you as your mother. If this mars me in your eyes, I can’t help it.”

For a moment, in her deep anger,–horror running through it, too, as though the very bottom had dropped out of things and she saw emptiness beneath her,–she thought that she would tell him to leave her there, forever. But Imogen’s intelligence was at times a fairly efficacious substitute for deeper promptings; and humiliation, instead of enwrapping her mind in a flare of passionate vanity, seemed, when such intellectual apprehension accompanied it, to clarify, to steady her thoughts. She saw, now, in the sudden uncanny illumination, that in all her vehemence of this afternoon there had been something fictitious. The sorrow, the resentment on her father’s account, she had, indeed, long felt; too long to feel keenly. Her disapproval of the second marriage was already tinctured by a certain satisfaction; it would free her of a thorn in the flesh, for such her mother’s presence in her life had become, and it would justify forever her sense of superiority. It was all the clearest cause for indignation that her mother had given her, and, seeing it as such, she had longed to make Jack share her secure reprobation; but she hadn’t, really, been able to