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  • 1907
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feel it as she saw it. It solved too many problems and salved too many hurts. So now, standing there under the arch of wistaria, she saw through herself; saw, at the very basis of her impulse, the dislocation that had made its demonstration dramatic and unconvincing. Dreadful as the humiliation was, her lips growing parched, her throat hot and dry with it, her intelligence saw its cause too clearly for her to resent it as she would have resented one less justified. There was, perhaps, something to be said for Jack, disastrously wrong though he was; and, with all her essential Tightness, there was, perhaps, something to be said against her. She could not break, without further reflection, the threads that still held them together.

So, at the moment of their deepest hostility, Jack was to have his sweetest impression of her. She didn’t order him away in tragic tones, as he almost expected; she didn’t overwhelm him with an icy torrent of reproach and argument. Instead, as she stood there against her halo of black, the long regard of her white face fixed on him, her eyes suddenly filled with tears. She didn’t acquiesce for a moment, or, for a moment, imply him anything but miserably, pitiably wrong; but in a voice from which every trace of anger had faded she said: “Oh Jack, how you hurt me!”

The shock of his surprise was so great that his cheeks flamed as though she had struck him. Answering tears sprang to his eyes. He stammered, could not speak at first, then got out: “Forgive me. I’d no business to say it. It’s lovely of you, Imogen, not just to send me off.”

She felt her triumph, her half-triumph, at once. “Why, Jack, if you think it, why should I forgive you for saying what, to you, seems the truth? You have forgotten me, Jack, almost altogether; but don’t forget that truth is the thing that I care most for. If you must think these things of me–and not only of me, of a dearer self, for I understand all that you meant–I must accept the sorrow and pain of it. When we care for people we must accept suffering because of them. Perhaps, in time, you may come to see differently.”

He knew, though she made him feel so abashed, that he could take back none of the “things” he thought; but as she had smiled faintly at him he answered with a wavering smile, putting out his hand to hers and holding it while he said: “Shall we agree, then, to say nothing more about it! To be as good friends–as the truth will let us?”

He had never hurt her as at that moment of gentleness, compunction, and inflexibility, and thought, for a moment, was obscured by a rush of bitter pain that could almost have cast her upon his breast, weeping and suppliant for all that his words shut the door on–perhaps forever.

But such impulses were swiftly mastered in poor Imogen. Gravely pressing his hand, she accepted the cutting compact, and, over her breathless sense of loss, held firm to the spiritual advantage of magnanimity and courage. He judged himself, not her, in letting her go, if he was really letting her go; and she must see him wander away into the darkness, alone, leaving her alone. It was tragic; it was nearly unendurable; but this was one of life’s hard lessons; her father had so often told her that they must be unflinchingly faced, unflinchingly conquered. So she triumphed over the weak crying out of human need.

They walked on slowly again, both feeling a little “done.” Neither spoke until, at the entrance of the park, and just before leaving its poetry for the screaming prose of the great city, Imogen said: “One thing I want to tell you, Jack, and that is that you may trust mama to me. Whatever I may think of this happiness that she is reaching out for, I shall not make it difficult or painful for her to take it. My pain shall cast no shadow on her gladness.”

Jack’s face still showed its flush and his voice had all the steadiness of his own interpretation, the steadiness of his refusal to accept hers, as he answered, “Thanks, Imogen; that’s very right of you.”

XVII

Imogen and Sir Basil were walking down a woodland path under the sky of American summer, a vast, high, cloudless dome of blue. Trees, tall and delicate, in early June foliage, grew closely on the hillside; the grass of the open glades was thick with wild Solomon’s-seal, and fragile clusters of wild columbine grew in the niches and crannies of the rocks, their pale-red chalices filled with fantastically fretted gold.

Imogen, dressed in thin black lawn, fine plaitings of white at throat and wrists, her golden head uncovered, walked a little before Sir Basil with her long, light, deliberate step. She had an errand in the village two miles away, and her mother had suggested that Sir Basil should go with her and have some first impressions of rural New England. He had only arrived the night before. Miss Bocock and the Pottses were expected this afternoon, and Mrs. Wake had been for a fortnight established in her tiny cottage on the opposite hillside.

“Tell me about your village here,” Sir Basil had said, and Imogen, with punctual courtesy and kindness, the carrying out of her promise to Jack, had rejoined: “It would be rather uneventful annals that I should have to tell you. The people are palely prosperous. They lead monotonous lives. They look forward for variety and interest, I think, to the summer, when all of us are here. One does all one can, then, to make some color for them. I have organized a kindergarten for the tiny children, and a girls’ club for debates and reading; it will help to an awakening I believe. I’m going to the club this afternoon. I’m very grateful to my girls for helping me as they do to be of use to them. It’s quite wonderful what they have done already. Our village life is in no sense like yours in England, you know; these people are all very proud and independent. It’s as a friend, not as a Lady Bountiful, that I go among them.”

“I see,” said Sir Basil, with interest, “that’s awfully nice all round. I wish we could get rid of a lot of stupid ways of thought at home. I’ll see something of these friends of yours at the house, then. I’m immensely interested in all these differences, you know.”

“You won’t see them at the house. Our relation is friendly, not social. That is a froth that doesn’t count.”

“Oh! and they don’t mind that–not having the social relation, I mean–if they are friends?”

“Why should they? I am not hurt because they do not ask me to their picnics and parties, nor are they because I don’t ask them to my dinners and teas. We both understand that all that is a matter of manner and accident; that in essentials we are equal.”

“I see; but,” Sir Basil still queried, “you wouldn’t care about their parties, I suppose, and don’t you think they might like your dinners? At least that’s the way it would work out, I’m afraid, at home.”

“Ah, it doesn’t here. They are too civilized for that. Neither of us would feel fitted to the superficial aspects of the others’ lives.”

“We have that sort of thing in England, too, you know; only perhaps we look at it more from the other side, and recognize difference rather than sameness.”

“Very much more, I think,” said Imogen with a slight smile. “I should think that there was very little resemblance. Your social structure is a wholesome, natural growth, embodying ideals that, in the main, are unconscious. We started from that and have been building ever since toward conscious ideals.”

“Well,”–Sir Basil passed over this simile, a little perplexed,–“it’s very wonderful that they shouldn’t feel–inferior, you know, in our ugly sense of the word, if they only get one side of friendship and not the other. Now that’s how we manage in England, you see; but then I’m afraid it doesn’t work out as you say it does here; I’m afraid they do feel inferior, after a fashion.”

“Only the truly inferior could feel inferiority, since they get the real side of friendship,” said Imogen, with gentle authority. “And I can’t think that, in our sense of the word, the real side is given with you. There is conscious condescension, conscious adaptation to a standard supposed lower.”

“I see; I see”; Sir Basil murmured, looking, while still perplexed, rather conscience-stricken; “yes, I suppose you’re right.”

Imogen looked as though she more than supposed it, and, feeling himself quite worsted, Sir Basil went on to ask her further questions about the club and kindergarten.

“What a lot of work it must all mean for you,” he said.

“That, I think, is one’s only right to the advantages one has–education, taste, inherited traditions,” said Imogen, willing to enlighten this charmingly civilized, yet spiritually barbarous, interlocutor who followed her, tall, in his delightfully outdoor-looking garments, his tie and the tilt of his Panama hat answering her nicest sense of fitness, and his handsome brown face, quizzical, yet very attentive, meeting her eyes on its leafy background whenever she turned her head. “If they are not made instruments to use for others they rust in our hands and poison us,” she said. “That’s the only real significance of an aristocracy, a class fitted to serve, with the highest service, the needs of all. Of course, much of our best and deepest thought about these things is English; don’t imagine me ungrateful to the noble thinkers of your–of my–race,–they have moulded and inspired us; but, there is the strange paradox of your civilization, your thought reacts so little on your life. Your idealists and seers count only for your culture, and even in your culture affect so little the automatic existence of your people. They form a little isolated class, a leaven that lies outside the lump. Now, with us, thought rises, works, ferments through every section of our common life.”

Quite without fire, almost indolently, she spoke; very simply, too, glancing round at him, as though she could not expect much understanding from such an alien listener.

“I’m awfully glad, you know, to get you to talk to me like this,” said Sir Basil, after a meditative pause; “I saw a good bit of you in New York, but you never talked much with me.”

“You had mama to talk to.”

“But I want to talk to you, too. You do a lot of thinking, I can see that.”

“I try to”; she smiled a little at his _naivete_.

“Your mother told me so much about you that I’m tremendously eager to know you for myself.”

“Well, I hope that you may come to, for mama’s pictures of me are not likely to be accurate,” said Imogen mildly. “We don’t think in the same way or see things in the same way and, though we are so fond of each other, we are not interested in the same things. Perhaps that is why I don’t interest her particular friends. They would not find much in common between mama and me”; but her smile was now a little humorous and she was quite prepared for his “Oh, but, I assure you, I am interested in you.”

Already, with her unerring instinct for power, Imogen knew that Sir Basil was interested in her. There was only, to be sure, a languid pleasure in the sense of power over a person already, as it were, so bespoken, so in bondage to other altars; but, though without a trace of coquetry, the smile quietly claimed him as a partial, a damaged convert. Imogen always knew when people were capable of being, as she expressed it to herself, “Hers.” She made small effort for those who were without the capacity. She never misdirected such smiles upon Rose, or Miss Bocock, or Mrs. Wake. And now, as Sir Basil went on to asseverate, just behind her shoulder, his pleasant tones quite touched with eagerness, that the more he saw of her the more interested he became, she allowed him to draw her into a playful argument on the subject.

“Yes, I quite believe that you would like me–if you came to know me”–she was willing to concede at last; “but, no, indeed no, I don’t think that you would ever feel much interest in me.”

“You mean because I’m not sufficiently interesting myself? Is that it, eh?” Sir Basil acutely asked, reflecting that he had never seen a girl walk so beautifully or dress so exquisitely. The sunlight glittered in her hair.

“I don’t mean that at all,” said Imogen; “although I don’t fancy that you are interested so deeply, and in so many things, as I am.”

“Now, really! Why not? You haven’t given me a chance to show you. Of course I’m not clever.”

“I meant nothing petty, like cleverness.”

“You mean that I don’t take life seriously enough to please you?”

“Not that, exactly. It’s that we face in opposite directions, as it were. Life isn’t to you what it is to me, it isn’t to you such a big, beautiful thing, with so many wonderful vistas in it–such far, high peaks.”

She was very grave now, and the gravity, the assurance, and, with them, the sweetness, of this young girl were charming and perplexing to Sir Basil. Girls so assured he had found harsh, disagreeable and, almost always, ugly; they had been the sort of girl one avoided. And girls so lovely had usually been coy and foolish. This girl walked like a queen, looked at one like a philosopher, smiled at one like an angel. He fixed his mind on her last words, rallying his sense of quizzical paternity to meet such disconcerting statements.

“Well, but you are very young; life looks like that–peaks, you know, and vistas, and all the rest–when one is young. You’ve not had time to find it out, to be disappointed,” said Sir Basil.

Imogen’s calm eye rested upon him, and even before she spoke he knew that he had made a very false step. It was as if, sunken to the knees in his foolish bog, he stood before her while she replied:

“Ah, it’s that that is shallow in you, or, let us say, undeveloped, still to be able to think of life in those terms. They are the thoughts of an unawakened person, and some people, I know, go all through life without awaking. You imagine, I suppose, that I think of life as something that is going to give me happiness, to fulfil sentimental, girlish dreams. You are mistaken. I have known bitter disappointments, bitter losses, bitter shatterings of hope. But life is wonderful and beautiful to me because we can be our best and do our best in it, and for it, if we try. It’s an immense adventure of the soul, an adventure that can disappoint only in the frivolous sense you were thinking of. Such joys are not the objects of our quest. One is disappointed with oneself, often, for falling so short of one’s vision, and people whom we love and trust may fail us and give us piercing pain; but life, in all its oneness, is good and beautiful if we wake to its deepest reality and give our hearts to the highest that we know.”

She spoke sadly, softly, surely, thinking of her own deep wounds, and to speak such words was almost like repeating a familiar lesson,–how often she had heard them on her father’s lips,–and Sir Basil listened, while he looked at the golden head, at the white hand stretched out now and then to put aside a branch or sapling–listened with an amazement half baffled and wholly admiring. He had never heard a girl talk like that. He had heard such words before, often, of course, but they had never sounded like this; they seemed fresh, and sparkling with a heavenly dew, spoken so quietly, with such indifference to their effect, such calmness of conviction. The first impression of her, that always hovered near, grew more strongly upon him. There was something heavenly about this girl. It was as though he had heard an angel singing in the woods, and a feeling of humility stole over him. It was usual for Sir Basil, who rarely thought about himself, to feel modest, but very unusual for him to feel humble.

“You make me believe it, when you say it,” he murmured. “I’m afraid you think me a dreadfully earthy, commonplace person.”

Imogen, at the change of note in his voice, looked round at him, more really aware of him than she had been at all, and when she met his glance the prophet’s calm fervor rose in her to answer the faith that she felt in him. She paused, letting him come abreast of her in the narrow path, and they both stood still, looking at each other.

“You are not earthy; you are not commonplace,” said Imogen, then, as a result of her contemplation. “I believe that you are a very big person, Sir Basil.”

“A big person? How do you mean?” He absolutely flushed, half abashed, half delighted.

Imogen continued to gaze, clearly and deeply. “There are all sorts of possibilities in you.”

“Oh, come now! At my age! Why, any possibilities are over, except for a cheerful kind of vegetating.”

“You have vegetated all your life, I can see that. No one has ever waked you. You have hardly _used_ your soul at all. It’s with you as it is with your country, whose life is built strongly and sanely with body and brain but who has not felt nationally, as a whole, its spirit. Like it, you have a spirit; like it, you are full of possibilities.”

“Miss Upton, you aren’t like anybody I’ve ever known. What sort of possibilities?”

She walked on now, feeling his thrill echo in herself, symptomatic of the passing forth of power and its return as enrichment of life and inspiration to helpfulness. “Of service,” she said. “Of devotion to great needs; courage in great causes. I don’t think that you have ever had a chance.”

Sir Basil, keeping his eyes on her straight, pale profile, groping and confused in this new flood of light, wondered if he had.

“You are an extraordinary young woman,” he said at last. “You make me believe in everything you say, though it’s so awfully queer, you know, to think in that way about myself. If you talk to me often like this, about needs and causes, will it give me more of a chance, do you think?”

“We must all win to the light for ourselves,” said Imogen very gently, “but we can help one another.”

They had come now to the edge of the wood and out upon the white road that curved from the village up to the blue of the hills they had descended. A tiny brook ran with a sharp, silvery tinkle on its farther edge and it was bordered by a light barrier of white railing. Beyond were spacious, half-cultivated meadows, stretched out for miles in the lap of low-lying hills.

Serene yet inhuman the landscape looked, a background to the thinnest of histories, significant only of its own dreaming solitude; and the village, among its elms, a little farther on, suggested the barest past, the most barren future. The road led on into its main street, where the elms made a stately avenue, arching over scattered frame houses of buff and gray and white. Imogen told Sir Basil that some of these houses were old, and pointed out an austere classic facade with pediment and pillars; explained to him, too, the pathetic condition of so much of abandoned New England. Sir Basil was thinking more of her last words in the woods than of local color, but he had, while he listened, a fairly definite impression of pinchbeck shops; of shabby awnings slanting in the sunlight over heaps of tumbled fruit and vegetables; of “buggies,” slip-shod, with dust-whitened wheels, the long-tailed, long-maned, slightly harnessed horses hitched to posts along the pavements. The faces that passed were indolent yet eager. The jaws of many worked mechanically at some unappeasing task of mastication.

Sir Basil had traveled since his arrival in America, had seen the luxuries of the Atlantic seacoast, the purposeful energy of Chicago, California’s Eden-like abundance, and had seen other New England villages where beauty was cherished and made permanent. He hardly needed Imogen’s further comments to establish his sense of contrast.

“This was always a poor enough little place. Any people who made it count left it long ago. But even here,” she went on, “even in its stagnation, one can find some of the things we care for in our country, some of the things we live for.”

Some of these things seemed personified in the figure of the young woman who met them in the girls’ club, among the shelves of books and the numerous framed photographs from the old masters. Imogen introduced Sir Basil to her and he watched her with interest while she and Imogen discussed some business matters. She was slender and upright, perhaps too upright; she was, in manner, unaffected and assured, perhaps too assured, but that Sir Basil did not observe. He found her voice unpleasant and her pronunciation faulty, but thought that she expressed herself with great force and fluency. Her eyes were bright, her skin sallow, she smiled gravely, and her calmness and her smile reminded Sir Basil a little of Imogen; perhaps they were racial. She was dressed in a simple gray cotton frock with neat lawn collar and cuffs, and her hair was raised in a lustrous “pompadour,” a wide comb traversing it behind and combs at the sides of her head upholding it in front. Toward Sir Basil she behaved with gracious stateliness of demeanor, so that he wondered anew at the anomalies of a country of ideals where a young person so well-appearing should not be asked to dinner.

Several other girls came in while they were there, and they all surrounded Imogen with eager familiarity of manner; all displayed toward himself, as he was introduced, variations of Miss Hickson’s stateliness. He thought it most delightful and interesting and the young women very remarkable persons. One discordant note, only, was struck in the harmony, and that discord was barely discerned by his untrained ear. While Imogen was talking, a girl appeared in the doorway, hesitated, then, with an indifferent and forbidding manner, strolled across the room to the book-shelves, where she selected a book, strolling out again with the barest nod of sullen recognition. She was a swarthy girl, robust and ample of form, with black eyes and dusky cheeks. Her torn red blouse and untidy hair marked her out from the sleek and social group. Sir Basil thought her very interesting looking. He asked Imogen, as they walked away under the elms, who she was. “That artistic young person, with the dark hair.”

“Artistic? Do you mean Mattie Smith?–the girl with the bad manners?” asked Imogen, smiling tolerantly.

“Yes, she looked like a clever young person. She belongs to the club?”

“She hardly counts as one of its members, though we welcome everyone, and, like all the girls of the village, she enjoys the use of our library. She is not clever, however. She is an envious and a rather ill-tempered girl, with very little of the spirit of sisterhood in her. And she nurses her defect of isolation and self-sufficiency. I hope that we may win her over to wider, sweeter outlooks some day.”

Mattie Smith, however, was one of the people upon whom Imogen wasted no smiles. On the Uptons first coming to spend their summers near Hamborough, Imogen had found this indolent yet forcible personality barring her path of benignant activity. Mattie Smith, unaided, undirected, ignorant of the Time Spirit’s high demands upon the individual, had already formed a club of sorts, a tawdry little room hung with bright bunting and adorned with colored pictures from the cheaper magazines, pictures of over-elegant, amorously inclined young couples in ball-rooms or on yachts and beaches. Here the girls read poor literature, played games, made candy over the stove and gossiped about their young men. Imogen deeply disapproved of the place; its ventilation was atrocious and its moral influence harmful; it relaxed and did not discipline,–so she had expressed it to her father. It soon withered under her rival beams. Mattie Smith’s members drifted by degrees into the more advantageous alliance. Mattie Smith had resented this triumphant placing of the higher standard and took pains, as Imogen, with the calm displeasure of the successful, observed, to make difficulties for her and to treat her with ostentatious disregard. Imogen guessed very accurately at the seething of anger and jealousy that bubbled in Mattie Smith’s breast; it was typical of so much of the lamentable spirit displayed by rudimentary natures when feeling the pressure of an ideal they did not share or when brought into contact with a more finished manner of life from which they were excluded. Imogen, too, could not have borne a rival ascendancy; but she was ascendant through right divine, and, while so acutely understanding Mattie Smith’s state of mind, she could not recognize a certain sameness of nature. She hoped that Mattie Smith would “grow,” but she felt that, essentially, she was not of the sort from which “hers” were made.

XVIII

It was almost four o’clock by the time that Imogen and Sir Basil reached the summit of one of the lower hills, and, among the trees, came upon the white glimmer of the Upton’s summer home. It stood in a wide clearing surrounded on three sides by the woods, the higher ranges rising about it, its lawn running down to slopes of long grass, thick with tall daisies and buttercups. Farther on was an orchard, and then, beyond the dip of a valley, the blue, undulating distance, bathed in a crystalline quivering. The house, of rough white stucco, had lintels and window-frames of dark wood, a roof of gray shingles, and bright green shutters. A wide veranda ran around it, wreathed in vines and creepers, and borders of flowers grew to the edges of the woods. Sir Basil thought that he had never seen anything prettier. Valerie, dressed in thin black, was sitting on the veranda, and beside her Miss Bocock, still in traveling dress, looked incongruously ungraceful. She had arrived an hour before with the Pottses, who had gone to their rooms, and said, in answer to Imogen’s kindly queries, that the journey hadn’t been bad, though the train was very stuffy. Then it appeared that Miss Bocock and Sir Basil were acquainted; they recollected each other, shook hands heartily, and asked and answered local questions. Miss Bocock’s people lived not so many miles from Thremdon Hall, and, though she had been little at home of late years, she and Sir Basil had country memories in common. She said presently that she, too, would like to tidy for the tea, and Imogen, taking her to her room, sat with her while she smoothed out one section of her hair and tonged the other, and while she put on a very stiff holland skirt and a blouse distressing to Imogen’s sensitive taste, a crude pink blouse, irrelevantly adorned about the shoulders with a deep frill of imitation lace. While she dressed she talked, in her high-pitched, cheerful voice, of the recent very successful lectures she had given in Boston and the acquaintances she had made there.

“I hope that my letters of introduction proved useful,” said Imogen. She considered Miss Bocock her _protegee_, but Miss Bocock, very vexatiously, seemed always oblivious of that fact; so that Imogen, though feeling that she had secured a guest who conferred luster, couldn’t resist, now and then, trying to bring her to a slightly clearer sense of obligation.

Miss Bocock said that, yes, they had been very useful, and Imogen watched her select from the graceful nosegay on her dressing-table two red roses which she pinned to her pink blouse with a heavy silver brooch representing, in an encircling bough, a mother bird hovering with outstretched wings over a precariously placed nest.

“Let me get you a white rose,” Imogen suggested; but Miss Bocock said, no, thanks, she was very fond of that shade of red.

“So you know Sir Basil,” said Imogen, repressing her sense of irritation.

“Know him? Yes, of course. Everybody in the county knows him. He is the big man thereabouts, you see. The old squire, his father, was very fond of my father, and we go to a garden-party at the hall once a year or so. It’s a nice old place.”

Imogen felt some perplexity. “But if your father and his were such friends why don’t you see more of each other?”

Miss Bocock looked cheerfully at her. “Why, because he is big and we aren’t. We are middle-class and he very much upper; it’s a very old family, the Thremdons,–I forget for how many generations they have been in Surrey. Now my dear old dad was only a country doctor,” Miss Bocock went on, seated in a rocking-chair–she liked rocking-chairs–with her knees crossed, her horribly shaped patent-leather shoes displayed and her clear eyes, through their glasses, fixed on Imogen while she made these unshrinking statements; “and a country doctor’s family hasn’t much to do with county people.”

“What an ugly thing,” said Imogen, while, swiftly, her mind adjusted itself to this new seeing of Miss Bocock. By its illumination Miss Bocock’s assurance toward herself grew more irritating than before, and the fact that Miss Bocock’s flavor was very different from Sir Basil’s became apparent.

“Not at all,” said Miss Bocock. “It’s a natural crystallization. You are working toward the same sort of thing over here–only not in such a wholesome way, I think.”

Imogen flushed a little. “Our crystallizations, when they aren’t artificially brought about by apings of your civilization, take place through real superiority and fitness. A woman of your intellectual ability is anybody’s equal in America.”

“Oh, as far as that goes, in that sense, I’m anybody’s equal in England, too,” said Miss Bocock, unperturbed and unimpressed.

Imogen rather wished she could make her feel that, since crystallizations were a fact, the Uptons, in that sense, were as much above her as the Thremdons. Idealist democrat as she counted herself, she had these quick glances at a standard kept, as it were, for private use; as if, from under an altar in the temple of humanity, its priest were to draw out for some personal reassurance a hidden yard-measure.

Tea, when they went down again, was served on the veranda and Imogen could observe, during its progress, that Miss Bocock showed none of the disposition to fawn on Sir Basil that one might have expected from a person of the middle-class. She contradicted him as cheerfully as she did Imogen herself.

Mr. and Mrs. Potts had gone for a little ramble in the lower woods, but they soon appeared, Mr. Potts seating himself limply on the steps and fanning himself with his broad straw hat–a hat that in its very largeness and looseness seemed to express the inflexible ideals of non-conformity–while Mrs. Potts, very firmly busked and bridled, her head very sleek, her smile very tight, took a chair between Mrs. Upton and Sir Basil, and soon showed, in her whole demeanor, a consciousness of the latter’s small titular decoration that placed her more definitely for Imogen’s eye than she had ever been placed before. The Pottses were middle-class with a vengeance. Imogen’s irritation grew as she watched these limpet-like friends, one sprawling and ill-at-ease for all his careful languor, the other quite dreadfully well-mannered, sipping her tea, arching her brows and assuming all sorts of perilous elegancies of pronunciation that Imogen had never before heard her attempt. It was an additional vexation to have them display toward herself, with even more exaggeration than usual, their tenacious tenderness; listening, with a grave turning of head and eye when she spoke, and receiving each remark with an over-emphasis of feeling on their over-mobile features.

There was, indeed, an odd irony in the Pottses being there at all. They had, in her father’s lifetime, only been asked with a horde of their kind, the whole uplifted batch thus worked off together, and Imogen had really not expected her mother to agree to her suggestion that they should be invited to pay the annual visit during Sir Basil’s stay. She would not own to herself that her suggestion had been made from a vague wish to put her mother to a test, to force her into a definite declaration against the incongruous guests; she had thought of the suggestion, rather, as an upholding of her father’s banner before the oncoming betrayal; but, instead of refusal, she had met with an instant, happy acquiescence, and it was now surely the climax of irony to see how her mother, for her sake, bore with them. More than for her sake, perhaps. Imogen detected in those seemingly indolent, yet so observant, eyes a keen reading of the Pottses’ perturbed condition, and in her manner, so easy and so apt, the sweetest, lightest kindness. She turned corners and drew veils for them, spread a warm haze of interest and serenity about their clumsy and obtruding personalities. Imogen could even see that the Pottses were reconsidering, with some confusion of mind, their old verdict on her mother.

This realization brought to her brooding thoughts a sudden pang of self-reproach. It wouldn’t do for the Pottses to find in her mother the cordiality they might miss in herself. She confessed that, for a moment, she had allowed the banner to trail in the dust of worldly thoughts, the banner to which the Pottses, poor dears, had rallied for so many loyal years. She summoned once more all her funds of spiritual appreciation and patience. As for Miss Bocock, she made not the slightest attempt to talk to the Pottses. She had come up with them from the station,–they had not found each other on the train,–and she had probably had her fill of them in that time. Once or twice, in the act of helping herself plentifully to cake, she paused to listen to them, and after that looked away, over their heads or through them, as if she finally dismissed them from the field of her attention. Mrs. Potts was questioning Sir Basil about his possible knowledge of her own English ancestry. “We came over in the _Mayflower_, you know,” she said.

“Really,” said Sir Basil, all courteous interest.

“The Claremonts, you know,” said Mrs. Potts, modestly, yet firmly, too. “My father was in direct descent; we have it all worked out in our family tree.”

“Oh, really,” said Sir Basil again.

“I’ve no doubt,” said Mrs. Potts, “that your forebears and mine, Sir Basil, were friends and comrades in the spacious times of good Queen Bess.”

Imogen, at this, glanced swiftly at her mother; but she caught no trace of wavering on that mild countenance.

“Oh, well, no,” Sir Basil answered. “My people were very little country squires in those days; we didn’t have much to do with the Dukes of Claremont. We only began to go up, you see, a good bit after you were on the top.”

Imogen fixed a calm but a very cold eye upon Mrs. Potts. She had heard of the Dukes of Claremont for many years; so had everybody who knew Mrs. Potts; they were an innocent, an ingrained illusion of the good lady’s, but to-day they seemed less innocent and more irritating than usual. Imogen felt that she could have boxed Mrs. Potts’s silly ears. In Sir Basil’s pleasant disclaimers, too, there was an echo of Miss Bocock’s matter-of-fact acknowledgments that seemed to set them both leagues away from the Pottses and to make their likeness greater than their difference.

“Well, of course,” Mrs. Potts was going on, her _pince-nez_ and all her small features mingled, as it were, in the vividest glitter, “for me, I confess, it’s blood, above all and beyond all, that counts; and you and I, Sir Basil, know that it is in the squirearchy that some of the best blood in England is found. We don’t recognize an aristocracy in our country, Sir Basil, but, though not recognized, it rules,–blood must rule; one often, in a democracy, feels that as one’s problem.”

“It’s only through service that it rules,” Mr. Potts suddenly ejaculated from where he sat doubled on the steps looking with a gloomy gaze into the distance. “Service; service–that’s our watchword. Lend a hand.”

Imogen saw a latent boredom piercing Sir Basil’s affability. Great truths uttered by some lips might be made to seem very unefficacious. She proposed to him that she should show him the wonderful display of mountain-laurel that grew higher up among the pine-woods. He rose with alacrity, but Mrs. Potts rose too. Imogen could hardly control her vexation when, nipping the crumbs from her lap and smoothing the folds at her waist, she declared that she was just in the humor for a walk and must see the laurel with them.

“You mustn’t tire yourself. Wouldn’t you rather stay and have another cup of tea and talk to me?” Mrs. Upton interposed, so that Imogen felt a dart of keen gratitude for such comprehension; but Mrs. Potts was not to be turned aside from her purpose. “Thank you so much, dear Mrs. Upton,” she answered; “we must have many, many talks indeed; but I do want to see my precious Imogen, and to see the laurel with her. You are one of those rare beings, darling Imogen, with whom one can _share_ nature. Will you come, too, Delancy, dear?” she asked her husband, “or will you stay and talk to Mrs. Upton and Miss Bocock? I’m sure that they will be eager to hear of this new peace committee of ours and zestful to help on the cause.”

Mr. Potts rather sulkily said that he would stay and talk to Mrs. Upton and Miss Bocock about the committee, and Imogen felt that it was in a manner of atonement to him for her monopolization of a lustrous past that Mrs. Potts presently, as they began the steep ascent along a winding, mossy path, told Sir Basil that her husband, too, knew the responsibility and burden of “blood.” And as, for a moment, they went before her, Imogen fancied that she heard the murmur of quite a new great name casting its agis about Mr. Potts. Very spiritual people could, she reflected, become strangely mendacious when borne along on the wings of ardor and exaltation.

Mrs. Potts’s presence was really quite intolerable, and, as she walked behind her and listened to her murmur, Imogen bethought her of an amusing, though rather ruthless, plan of elimination. Imogen was very capable of ruthlessness when circumstances demanded it. Turning, therefore, suddenly to the right, she led them into a steep and rocky path that, as she well knew, would eventually prove impassable to Mrs. Potts’s short legs and stiff, fat person. Indeed, Mrs. Potts soon began to pant and sigh. Her recital of the family annals became disconnected; she paused to take off and rub her eyeglasses and presently asked, in extenuated tones, if this were the usual path to the laurel.

“It’s the one I always take, dear Mrs. Potts; it’s the one I wanted Sir Basil to see, it’s so far the lovelier. One gets the most wonderful, steep views down into far depths of blue,” Imogen, perched like a slender Valkyrie on the summit of a crag above, thus addressed her perturbed friend.

She couldn’t really but be amused by Mrs. Potts’s pertinacity, for, not yet relinquishing her purpose, she continued, in silence now, her lips compressed, her forehead beaded with moisture, to scale the difficult way, showing a resolute nimbleness amazing in one so ill-formed for feats of agility. Sir Basil gave her a succoring hand while Imogen soared ahead, confident of the moment when Mrs. Potts, perforce, must fall back.

“Tiresome woman!” she thought, but she couldn’t help smiling while she thought it, and heard Mrs. Potts’s deep breath laboring up behind her. It was, perhaps, rather a shame to balk her in this way; but, after all, she was to have a full fortnight of Sir Basil and she, Imogen, felt that on this day, the day of a new friendship, Sir Basil’s claim on her was paramount. She had something for him, a light, a strengthening, and she must keep the hour sacred to that stir of awakening. Among the pines and laurels she would say a few more words of help to him. So that Mrs. Potts must be made to go.

The moment came. A shoulder of rock overhung the way and the only passage was over its almost perpendicular surface. Imogen, as if unconscious of difficulty, with a stride, a leap, a swift clutch of her firm white hand, was at the top, smiling down at them and saying: “Now here the view is our very loveliest. One looks down for miles.”

“But–my dear Imogen–is there no other way, round it, perhaps?” Mrs. Potts looked desperately into the thick underbrush on either side.

“No other way,” said Imogen. “But you can manage it. This is only the beginning,–there’s some real climbing farther on. Put your foot where I did–no, higher–near the little fern–your hand here, look, do you see? Take a firm hold of that–then a good spring–and here you are.”

Poor Mrs. Potts laid a faltering hand on the high ledge that was only a first stage in the chamois-like feat, and Imogen saw unwilling relinquishment in her eye.

“I don’t see as I can do it,” she murmured, relapsing, in her distress, into a helpless vernacular.

“Oh, yes, this is nothing. Sir Basil will give you a push. I’ll pull you and he will push you,” Imogen, with kindest solicitude, suggested.

“Oh, I don’t see as I _can_,” Mrs. Potts repeated, looking rather wild at the vision of such a push. She didn’t at all lend herself to pushes, and yet, facing even the indignities of that method, she did, though faltering, place herself in position; did lay a desperate hold of the high ledge, place her small, fat, tightly buttoned foot high beside the fern; allow Sir Basil, with a hand under each armpit, to kindly count “One-two-three–now for it!”–did even, at the word of command, make a passionate jump, only to lose hold, scrape lamentably down the surface of the rock, and collapse into his arms.

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” said Imogen, looking down upon them while Sir Basil placed Mrs. Potts upon her feet, and while Mrs. Potts, angered almost to tears, rubbed with her handkerchief at the damage done to her dress. “I’m so _very_ sorry, dear Mrs. Potts. I see that it is a little too steep for you. And I did so want you to see this view.”

“I shall have to go back. I am very tired, quite exhausted,” said Mrs. Potts, in a voice that slightly shook. “I wish you had taken the usual path. I never dreamed that we were setting out on such a–such a violent expedition.”

“But this is my usual path,” said Imogen, opening her eyes. “I’ve never found it hard. And I wanted you and Sir Basil to see my view. But, dear Mrs. Potts, let me go back with you. Sir Basil won’t mind finding his way alone, I’m sure.”

“Oh, no, thanks! No, I couldn’t think of spoiling your walk. No, I will go back,” and Mrs. Potts, turning away, began to retrace her steps.

“Be sure and lie down and rest; take a little nap before dinner,” Imogen called after her.

Mrs. Potts disappeared, and Imogen, when she and Sir Basil stood together on the fortunate obstacle, said: “Poor, excellent creature. I _am_ sorry. She is displeased with me. I ought to have remembered that this was too rough for her and taken the other path.” Indeed, she had felt rather guilty as Mrs. Potts’s back, the ridge of its high stays strongly marked by the slanting sunlight, descended among the sylvan scenery.

“Yes, and she did so want to come, awfully keen on it,” said Sir Basil; “but I hope you won’t think me very brutal if I confess that _I’m_ not sorry. I want to talk to you, you see,” Sir Basil beamed.

“I would rather talk to you, too,” Imogen smiled. “My good old friend can be very wearisome. But it was thoughtless of me to have brought her on this way.”

They rested for a little while on their rock, looking down into the distance that was, indeed, worth any amount of climbing. And afterward, when they reached the fairyland where the laurel drifted through the pine woods, and as she quoted “Wood-Notes” to him and pointed out to him the delicate splendors of the polished green, the clear, cold pink, on a background of gray rock, Imogen could but feel her little naughtiness well justified. It was delightful to be there in solitude with Sir Basil, and the sense of sympathy that grew between her and this supplanter of her father’s was strange, but not unsweet. It wasn’t only that she could help him, and that that was always a claim to which one must respond, but she liked helping him.

On the downward way, a little tired from the rapidity of her ascent, she often gave her hand to Sir Basil as she leaped from rock to rock, and they smiled at each other without speaking, already like the best of friends.

That evening, as she was going down to dinner, Imogen met her mother on the stairs. They spoke little to each other during these days. Imogen felt that her neutrality of attitude could best be maintained by silence.

“Mrs. Potts came back,” her mother said, smiling a little, and, Imogen fancied, with the old touch of timidity that she remembered in her. “She said that you took her on a most fearful climb.”

“What foolishness, poor dear Mrs. Potts! I took her along the upper path.”

“The upper path! Is there an upper path?” Mrs. Upton descended beside her daughter. “I thought that it was the usual path that had proved too much for her.”

“I wanted them to see the view from the rock,” said Imogen; “I forgot that poor Mrs. Potts would find it too difficult a climb.”

“Oh, I remember, now, the rock! That is a difficult climb,” said Mrs. Upton.

Imogen wondered if her mother guessed at why Mrs. Potts had been taken on it. She must feel it of good augury, if she did, that her daughter should already like Sir Basil enough to indulge in such an uncharitable freak. Imogen felt her color rise a little as she suspected herself and her motives revealed. It was not that she wasn’t quite ready to own to a friendship with Sir Basil; but she didn’t want friendship to be confused with condonation, and she didn’t like her mother to guess that she could use Mrs. Potts uncharitably.

XIX

Her magnanimity toward Jack–so Imogen more and more clearly saw it to have been–at the time of their parting, had made it inevitable that he should hold to his engagement to visit them that summer, and even because of that magnanimity, she felt, in thinking over again and again the things that Jack had said of her and to her, a deepening of the cold indignation that the magnanimity had quelled at the moment of his speaking them. Mingling with the sense of snapped and bleeding ties was a longing, irrepressible, profound, violent, that he might be humiliated, punished, brought to his knees in penitence and abasement.

Her friendship with Sir Basil, his devotion to her, must be, though by no means humiliating, something of a coal of fire laid on Jack’s traitorous head; and she saw at once that he was pleased, touched, but perplexed, by what must seem to him an unforeseen smoothing of her mother’s path. He was there, she guessed, far more to see that her mother’s path was made smooth than to try and straighten out their own twisted and separate ways. He had come for her mother, not for her; and Imogen did not know whether it was more pain or anger that the realization gave her.

What puzzled him, what must have puzzled her mother, must puzzle, indeed, anyone who perceived it,–except, no doubt, the innocent Sir Basil himself,–was that this friendship took up most of Sir Basil’s time.

To Sir Basil she stood for something lofty and exquisite that did not, of course, clash with more rudimentary, if deeper, affections, but that, perforce, made them stand aside for the little interlude where it soared and sang. There was, for Imogen, a sharp sweetness in this fact and in Jack’s bewildered appreciation of it, though for her own consciousness the triumph was no satisfying one. After all, of what use was it to soar and sing if Sir Basil were to drop to earth so inevitably and so soon? Outwardly, at all events, this unforeseen change in the situation gave her all the advantage in her meeting with Jack. She was not the reproved and isolated creature that he might have expected to find. She was not the helpless girl, subjugated by an alien mother and cast off by a faithless lover. No; calm, benignant, lovely, she had turned to other needs; one was not helpless while one helped; not small when others looked up to one.

Under her calm was the lament; under her unfaltering smile, the loneliness and the burning of that bitter indignation; but Jack could not guess at that, and if both felt difficulty in the neatly balanced friendship pledged under the wisteria, if there was a breathlessness for both in the tight-rope performance,–where one false step might topple one over into open hostility, or else, who knew, into complete surrender,–it was Imogen who gained composure from Jack’s nervousness, and while he walked the rope with a fluttering breath and an anxious eye she herself could show the most graceful slides and posturings in midair.

It was evident enough to everybody that the relation was a changed, a precarious one, but all the seeming danger was Jack’s alone.

Imogen, while she swung and balanced, often found her mother’s eye fixed on her with a deep preoccupation, and guessed that it was owing to her mother’s tactics that most of her _tete-a-tetes_ with Jack were due. Her poor mother might imagine that she thus secured the solid foundation of the earth for their footsteps, but Imogen knew that never was the rope so dizzily swung as when she and Jack were thus gently coerced into solitude together.

It was, however, a few days after Jack’s arrival, and a few days before the Pottses’ departure, that an interest came to her of such an absorbing nature that it wrapped her mind away from the chill or scorching sense of her own wrongs. It was with the Pottses that the plan originated, and though the Pottses were proving more trying than they had ever been, they caught some of the radiance of their own proposal. As instruments in a great purpose, she could look upon them more patiently, though, more than ever, it would need tact to prevent them from shadowing the brightness that they offered. The plan, apparently, had been with them for some time, its disclosure delayed until the moment suited to its seriousness and sanctity, and it was then, between the three, mapped out and discussed carefully before they felt it ripe for further publicity. Then it was Imogen who told them that the time had come for the unfolding to her mother, and Imogen who led them, on a sunny afternoon, into her mother’s little sitting-room where she sat writing at her desk.

Jack was there, reading near the window that opened upon the veranda, but his presence was not one to make the occasion less intimate, and Imogen was glad of it. It was well that he should be a witness to what she felt to be a confession of faith, a confession that needed explicit defining, and of a faith that he and all the others, by common consent, seemed banded together to ignore.

So, with something of the air of a lovely verger, she led her primed pair into the room and pointed out two chairs to them.

Valerie, in her thin black draperies, looked pale and jaded. She turned from her desk, keeping her pen in her hand, and Imogen detected in her eye, as it rested upon the Pottses, a certain impatience.

Tison, suddenly awakening, broke into passionate barking; he had from the moment of Mr. Potts’s arrival shown toward him a pronounced aversion, and, backed under the safe refuge of his mistress’s chair, his sharp hostility disturbed the ceremonious entrance.

“Please put the dog out, Jack,” said Imogen; “we have a very serious matter to talk over with mama.” But Valerie, stooping, caught him up, keeping a soothing hand on his still defiant head, while Mr. Potts unfolded the plan before her.

The wonderful purpose, the wonderful project, was that Mr. Potts, aided by Imogen, should write the life of the late Mr. Upton; and as the curtain was drawn from before the shrined intention, Imogen saw that her mother flushed deeply.

“His name must not be allowed to die from among us, Mrs. Upton. His ideals must become more widely the ideals of his countrymen.” Mr. Potts, crossing his knees and throwing back his shoulders, wrapped one hand, while he spoke, in a turn of his flowing beard. “They are in crying need of such a message, now, when the tides of social materialism and political corruption are at their height. We may well say, to paraphrase the great poet’s words: ‘Upton! thou shouldst be living at this hour; New York hath need of thee.’ And this need is one that it is our duty, and our high privilege, to satisfy.” Mr. Potts’s eye, heavy with its responsibility, dwelt on Valerie’s downcast face. “No one, I may say it frankly, Mrs. Upton, is more fitted than I to satisfy that need and to hand on that message. No one had more opportunity than I for understanding that radiant personality in its public aspects. No one can feel more deeply than I that duty and that privilege. Every American child should know the name of Upton; every American man and woman should count him among the prophets of his generation. He did not ask for fame, and we, his followers, ask none for him. No marble temple, no effulgent light of stained glass;–no. But the violets and lilies of childhood laid upon his grave; the tearful, yet joyous whisper of those who come to share his spirit:–‘I, too, am of his race. I, too, can with him strive and with him achieve.'” Mr. Potts’s voice had risen, and Tison, once more, gave a couple of hoarse, smothered barks.

Imogen, though reared on verbal bombast, had found some difficulty in maintaining her expression of uplifted approbation while Mr. Potts’s rhetoric rolled; her willingness that Mr. Potts should serve the cause did not blind her to his inadequacy unless kept under the most careful control; and now, though incensed by Tison’s interjection, she felt it as something of a relief, seizing the opportunity of Mr. Potts’s momentary confusion to suggest, in a gentle and guarded voice:–“You might tell mama now, Mr. Potts, how we want her to help us.”

“I am coming to that, Miss Imogen,” said Mr. Potts, with a drop from sonority to dryness;–“I was approaching that point when the dog interrupted me”; and Mr. Potts cast a very venomous glance upon Tison.

“Had not the dog better be removed, Mrs. Upton?” Mrs. Potts, under her breath, murmured, leaning, as if in a pew and above prayer books, forward in her chair. But Mrs. Upton seemed deaf to the suggestion.

Mr. Potts cleared his throat and resumed somewhat tersely:–“This is our project, Mrs. Upton, and we have come this afternoon to ask you for your furtherance of it. You, of course, can provide me and Miss Imogen with many materials, inaccessible otherwise, for this our work of love. Early letters, to you;–early photographs;–reminiscences of his younger days, and so on. Any suggestion as to the form and scope of the book we will be glad, very glad, to consider.”

Valerie had listened without a word or gesture, her pen still held in one hand, Tison pressed to her by the other, as she sat sideways to the writing-table. Imogen read in her face a mingled embarrassment and displeasure.

“I am sure we must all be very grateful to Mr. Potts for this great idea of his, mama dear,” she said. “I thought of it, of course, as soon as papa died; I knew that we all owed it to him, and to the country that he loved and served so well; but I did not see my way, and have not seen it till now. I’ve so little technical knowledge. But now I shall contribute a little memoir to the biography and, in any other way, give Mr. Potts all the aid I can. And we hope that you will, too. Papa’s name is one that must not be allowed to fade.”

“I would rather talk of this at some other time, and with Mr. Potts alone,” Valerie now said, not raising her eyes.

“But mama, this is my work, too. I must be present when it is talked of.”

“No, Jack, don’t go,” said Valerie, looking up at the young man, who had made a gesture of rising. “You and I, Imogen, will speak of this together, and I will find an hour, later, when I will be free to talk to Mr. Potts.”

“Mama darling,” said Imogen, masking her rising anger in patient playfulness, “you are a lazy, postponing person. You are not a bit busy, and this is just the time to talk it over with us all. Of course Jack must stay; we want his advice, too, severe critic as we know him to be. Come, dear, put down that pen.” She bent over her and drew the pen from her hand while Mr. Potts watched the little scene, old suspicions clouding his countenance.

“My time is limited, Mrs. Upton,” he observed; “Mrs. Potts and I take our departure to-morrow and, if I have heard aright, you expect acquaintances to dinner. Therefore, if you will pardon me, I must ask you to let us have the benefit, here and now, of your suggestions.”

Valerie had not responded by any smile to Imogen’s rather baleful lightness, nor did she, by any penitence of look, respond to Mr. Potts’s urgency. She sat silent for a moment, and when she spoke it was in a changed voice, dulled, monotonous. “If you insist on my speaking, now–and openly,–I must say to you that I altogether disapprove of your project. You will never,” said Valerie, with a rising color, “gain my consent to it.”

A heavy silence followed her words, the only sound that of Tison’s faint sniffings, as, his nose outstretched and moving from side to side, he cautiously savored the air in Mr. Potts’s direction. Mrs. Potts stirred slightly, and uttered a sharp, “Tht–tht.” Mr. Potts, his hand still stayed in his beard, gazed from under the fringed penthouse of his brows with an arrested, bovine look.

It was Imogen who broke the silence. Standing beside her mother she had felt the shock of a curious fulfilment go through her, as if she had almost expected to hear what she now heard. She mastered her voice to ask:–“We must demand your reasons for this–this very strange attitude, mama.”

Her mother did not raise her eyes. “I don’t think that your father was a man of sufficient distinction to justify the publishing of his biography.”

At this Mr. Potts breathed a deep, indignant volume of sound, louder than a sigh, less articulate than a groan, through the forests of his beard.

“Sufficient distinction, Mrs. Upton! Sufficient distinction! You evidently are quite ignorant of how great was the distinction of your late husband. Ask us what that distinction was–ask any of his large circle of friends. It was a distinction not of mind only, nor of birth and breeding–though that was of the highest that this country has fostered–but it was a distinction also of soul and spirit. Your husband, Mrs. Upton, fought with speech and pen the iniquities of his country, the country that, as Miss Imogen has said, he loved and served. He served, he loved, with mind and heart and hand. He was the moving spirit in all the great causes of his day, the vitalizing influence that poured faith and will-power into them. He founded the cooperative community of Clackville; he organized the society of the ‘Doers’ among our young men;–he was a patron of the arts; talent was fostered, cheered on its way by him;–I can speak personally of three young friends of mine–noble boys–whom he sent to Paris at his own expense for the study of music and painting; when the great American picture is painted, the great American symphony composed, it will be, in all probability, to your husband that the country will owe the unveiling of its power. And above all, Mrs. Upton, above all,”–Mr. Potts’s voice dropped to a thunderous solemnity,–“his character, his personality, his spirit, were as a light shining in darkness to all who had the good fortune to know him, and that light cannot, shall not, be cribbed, cabined and confined to a merely private capacity. It is a public possession and belongs to his country and to his age.”

Tison, all unheeded now, had leapt to the floor and, during this address, had stood directly in front of the speaker, barking furiously until Imogen, her lips compressed, her forehead flushed, stooped, picked him up, and flung him out of the room.

Mrs. Upton had sat quite motionless, only lifting her glance now and then to Mr. Potts’s shaking beard and flashing eye. And, after another pause, in which only Mr. Potts’s deep breathing was heard,–and the desperate scratching at the door of the banished Tison,–she said in somber tones:–“I think you forget, Mr. Potts, that I was never one of my husband’s appreciators. I am sorry to be forced to recall this fact to your memory.”

It had been in all their memories, of course, a vague, hovering uncertainty, a dark suspicion that one put aside and would not look at. But to have it now placed before them, and in these cold, these somber tones, was to receive an icy douche of reality, to be convicted of over-ready hope, over-generous confidence.

It was Imogen, again, who found words for the indignant deputation: “Is that lamentable fact any reason why those who do appreciate him should not share their knowledge with others?”

“I think it is;–I hope so, Imogen,” her mother replied, not raising her eyes to her.

“You tell us that your own ignorance and blindness is to prevent us from writing my father’s life?”

“My opinion of your father’s relative insignificance is, I think, a sufficient reason.”

“Do you quite realize the arrogance of that attitude?”

“I accept all its responsibility, Imogen.”

“But _we_ cannot accept it in you,” said Imogen, her voice sinking to the hard quiver of reality that Jack well knew;–“_we_ can’t fail in our duty to him because you have always failed in yours. _We_ are in no way bound to consider you-who never considered him.”

“Imogen,” said her mother, raising her eyes with a look of command; “you forget yourself. Be still.”

Imogen’s face froze to stone. Such words, such a look, she had never met before. She stood silent, helpless, rage and despair at her heart.

But Mr. Potts did not lag behind his duty. His hand still wrapped, Moses-like, in his beard, his eyes bent in holy wrath upon his hostess, he rose to his feet, and Mrs. Potts, in recounting the scene–one of the most thrilling of her life–always said that never had she seen Delancy so superbly _true_, never had she seen blood so _tell_.

“I must say to you, Mrs. Upton, with the deepest pain,” he said, “that I agree with Miss Imogen. I must inform you, Mrs. Upton, that you have no right, legal or moral, to bind us by your own shortcoming. Miss Imogen and I may do our duty without your help or consent.”

“I have nothing more to say to you, Mr. Potts,” Valerie replied. She had, unseeingly, taken up her pen again and, with a gesture habitual to her, was drawing squares and crosses on the blotter under her hand. The lines trembled. The angles of the squares would not meet.

“But I have still something to say to you, Mrs. Upton,” said Mr. Potts; “I have still to say to you that, much as you have shocked and pained us in the past, you have never so shocked and pained us as now. We had hoped for better things in you,–wider lights, deeper insights, the unsealing of your eyes to error and wrong in yourself; we had hoped that sorrow would work its sacred discipline and that, with your daughter’s hand to guide you, you were preparing to follow, from however far a distance, in the footsteps of him who is gone. This must count for us, always, as a dark day of life, when we have seen a human soul turn wilfully from the good held out to it and choose deliberately the evil. I speak for myself and for Mrs. Potts–and in sorrow rather than in wrath, Mrs. Upton. I say nothing of your daughter; I bow my head before that sacred filial grief. I–“

But here, suddenly, quiet, swift, irresistible as a flame, Jack rose from his place. It seemed one suave, unbroken motion, that by which he laid a hand on Mr. Potts’s shoulder, a hand on Mrs. Potts’s shoulder–she had risen in wonder and alarm at the menacing descent upon her lord–laid a hand on each, swept them to the door, opened it, swept them out, and shut the door upon them. Then he turned and leaned upon it, his arms folded.

“Perhaps, Jack, you wish to put me out, too,” said Imogen in a voice of ice and fire. “Your arguments are conclusive. I hope that mama approves her champion.”

Valerie now seemed to lean heavily on the table; she rested her forehead on her hand, covering her eyes.

“Have you anything to say to me, mama, before Jack executes his justice on me?” Imogen asked.

“Spare me, Imogen,” her mother answered.

“Have you spared _me_?” said Imogen. “Have you spared my father? What right have you to ask for mercy? You are a cruel, a shallow, a selfish woman, and you break my heart as you broke his. Now Jack, you need not put me out. I will go of myself.”

When Jack had closed the door on her, he still stood leaning against it at a distance from Valerie. He saw that she wept, bitterly and uncontrollably; but, at first, awed by her grief, he did not dare approach her. It was only when the sobs were quieted that he went and stood near her.

“You were right, right,” he almost whispered.

She did not answer, and wept on as if there could be no consolation for her in such rightness.

“It had to come,” said Jack; “she had to be made to understand. And–you are right.”

She was not thinking of herself. “Oh, Jack Jack,” she spoke at last, putting out her hand to his and grasping it tightly “How I have hurt her. Poor Imogen;–my poor, poor child.”

XX

Imogen hardly knew where she went, or how, when she left her mother–her mother and Jack–and darted from the house on the wings of a supreme indignation, a supreme despair. Her sense of fitness was not that of Mr. Potts, and she knew that her father’s biography was doomed. Against her mother’s wish it could not, with any grace, any dignity, be published. Mr. Potts would put forth appreciation of his departed chief in the small, grandiloquent review to which he contributed–he had only delayed because of the greater project–but such a tribute would be a sealing of public failure rather than the kindling of public recognition. Already her father, by that larger public, was forgotten–forgotten; Mr. Potts would not make him remembered.

The word “forgotten” seemed like the beat of dark, tragic wings, bearing her on and on. The fire of a bitter wrong burned in her. And it was not the sense of personal wrong–though that was fierce,–that made her flight so blind and headlong–not her mother’s cruelty nor Jack’s sinister espousal of the cause he saw as evil; it was this final, this culminating wrong to her father. His face rose before her, while she fled, the deep, dark eyes dwelling with persistence on her as though they asked,–she seemed to hear the very words and in his very voice:–“What have they done to me, little daughter? Did I deserve this heaping of dust upon my name;–and from her hands?”

For it was that. Dust, the dust of indifferent time, of cold-hearted oblivion, was drifting over him, hiding his smile, his eyes, his tears. It seemed to mount, to suffocate her, as she ran, this dust, strewn by her mother’s hand. Even in her own heart she had known the parching of its drifting fall, known that crouching doubts–not of him, never of him–but of his greatness, had lurked in ambush since her mother had come home;–known that the Pottses and their fitness had never before been so clearly seen for the little that they were since her mother–and all that her mother had brought–had come into her life. And, before this drifting of dust upon her faith in her father’s greatness, her heart, all that was deepest in it, broke into a greater trust, a greater love, sobs beneath it. He was not great, perhaps, as the world counted greatness; but he was good, good,–he was sorrowful and patient. He loved her as no one had ever loved her. His ideals were hers and her love was his. Dust might lie on his tomb; but never, never, in her heart.

“Ah, it’s cruel! cruel! cruel!” she panted, as she ran, ran, up the rocky, woodland path, leaping from ledge to ledge, slipping on the silky moss, falling now and then on hands and knees, but not pausing or faltering until she reached the murmuring pine-woods, the grassy, aromatic glades where the mountain-laurel grew.

Pallid, disheveled, with tragic, unseeing eyes and parted lips–the hollowed eyes, the sorrowful lips of a classic mask–she rushed from the shadows of the mountain–path into this place of sunlight and solitude. A doomed, distraught Antigone.

And so she looked to Sir Basil, who, his back against a warm rock, a cigarette in one lazy hand, was outstretched there before her on the moss, a bush of flowering laurel at his head, and, at his feet, beyond tree-tops, the steep, far blue of the lower world. He was gazing placidly at this view, empty of thought and even of conscious appreciation, wrapped in a balmy contentment, when, with the long, deep breath of a hunted deer, Imogen leaped from darkness into light, and her face announced such disaster that, casting aside the cigarette, springing to his feet, he seized her by the arms, thinking that she might fall before him. And indeed she would have cast herself face downward on the grass had he not been there; and she leaned forward on his supporting hands, speechless, breathing heavily, borne down by the impetus of her headlong run. Then, her face hidden from him as she leaned, she burst into sobs.

“Miss Upton!–Imogen!–My dear child!–” said Sir Basil, in a crescendo of distress and solicitude.

She leaned there on his hands weeping so bitterly and so helplessly that he finished his phrase by putting an arm around her, and so more effectually supporting her, so satisfying, also, his own desire to comfort and caress her.

The human touch, the human tenderness–though him she hardly realized–drew her grief to articulateness. “Oh–my father!–my father!–Oh–what have they done to you!” she gasped, leaning her forehead against Sir Basil’s shoulder.

“Your father?” Sir Basil repeated soothingly, since this departed personality seemed a menace that might easily be dealt with, “What is it? What have they done? How can I help you? My dear child, do treat me as a friend. Do tell me what is the matter.”

“It’s mama! mama!–she has broken my heart–as she broke his,” sobbed Imogen, finding her former words. Already, such was the amazing irony of events, Sir Basil seemed, more than anyone in the world, to take that dead father’s place, to help her in her grief over him. The puzzle of it inflicted a deeper pang. “I can’t tell you,” she sobbed. “But I can never, never forgive her!”

“Forgive your mother?” Sir Basil repeated, shocked. “Don’t, I beg of you, speak so. It’s some misunderstanding.”

“No!–No!–It is understanding–it is the whole understanding! It has come out at last–the truth–the dreadful truth.”

“But can’t you tell me? can’t you explain?”

She lifted her face and drew away from him as she said, pressing her handkerchief to her eyes: “You never knew him. You cannot care for him–no one who cares, as much as you do, for her,–can ever care for him.”

Sir Basil had deeply flushed. He led her to the sunny rock and made her sit down on a low ledge, where she leaned forward, her face in her hands, long sighs of exhaustion succeeding her tears. “I know nothing about your father, as you say, and I do care, very much, for your mother,” said Sir Basil after a little while. “But I care for you, very much, too.”

“Ah, but you could never care for me so much as to think her wrong.”

“I don’t know about that. Why not?–if she is wrong. One often thinks people one is fond of very wrong. Do you know,” and Sir Basil now sat down beside her, a little lower, on the moss, “do you know you’ll make me quite wretched if you won’t have confidence in me. I really can’t stand seeing you suffer and not know what it’s about. I don’t–I can’t feel myself such a stranger as that. Won’t you think of me,” he took one of her hands and held it as he said this, “won’t you think of me as, well, as a sort of affectionate old brother, you know? I want to be trusted, and to see if I can’t help you. Don’t be afraid,” he added, “of being disloyal–of making me care less, you know, for your mother, by anything you say; for you wouldn’t.”

Leaning there, her face hidden, while she half heard him, it struck her suddenly, a shaft of light in darkness, that, indeed, he might help her. She dropped her hand to look at him and, with all its tear-stained disfigurement, he thought that he had never seen anything more heavenly than that look. It sought, it sounded him, pleaded with and caressed him. And, with all its solemnity, there dawned in it a tenderness deeper than any that he had ever seen in her.

“I do trust you,” she said. “I think of you as a near, a dear friend. And, since you promise me that it will change you in nothing, I will tell you. I believe that perhaps you can help us,–my father and me. You must count me with him, you know, always. We want to write a life of him, Mr. Potts and I. Mr. Potts–you may have seen it–is an ordinary person, ordinary but for one thing, one great and beautiful thing that papa and I always felt in him,–and that beautiful thing is his depth of unselfish devotion to great causes and to good people. He worked for my father like a faithful, loving dog. He had an accurate knowledge of all the activities that papa’s life was given to–all the ideals it aimed at and attained–yes, yes, attained,–whatever they may say. He has a very skilful pen, and is in touch with the public press. So, though I would, of course, have wished for a more adequate biographer, I was glad and proud to accept his offer; and I would have overlooked, revised, everything. We felt,–and by we, I mean not only Mr. and Mrs. Potts, but all his many, many friends, all those whose lives he loved and helped and lifted–that we owed it to the world he served not to let his name fade from among us. You cannot dream, Sir Basil, of what sort of man my father was. His life was one long devotion to the highest things, one long service of the weak and oppressed, one long battle with the wrong. Those who are incapable of following him to the heights can give you no true picture of him. I will say nothing, in this respect, of mama, except that she could not follow him,–and that she made him very, very unhappy, and with him, me. For I shared all his griefs. She left us; she laughed at all the things we cared and worked for. My father never spoke bitterly of her; his last words, almost, were for her, words of tenderness and pity and forgiveness. He had the capacity that only great souls have, of love for littler natures. I say this much so that you may know that any idea that you may have gathered of my father is, perforce, a garbled, a false one. He was a noble, a wonderful man. Everything I am I owe to him.”

Imogen had straightened herself, the traces of weeping almost gone, her own fluency, as was usual with her, quieting her emotion, even while her own and her father’s wrongs, thus objectivized in careful phrases, made indignation at once colder and deeper. Her very effort to quell indignation, to command her voice to an even justice of tone before this lover of her mother’s, gave it a resonant quality, curiously impressive. And, as she looked before her, down into the blue profundities, the sense of her own sincerity seemed to pulse back to her from her silent listener, and filled her with a growing consciousness of power over him.

“This morning,” she took up her theme on that resonant note, deepened to a tragic pitch, “we went to mama–Mr. Potts and I–to tell her of our project of commemoration, to ask her cooperation. We wanted to be very generous with her, to take her help and her sympathy for granted. I should have felt it an insult to my mother had I told Mr. Potts that we must carry on our work without consulting her. She received us with cold indifference. She tried not to listen, when she heard what our errand was. And her indifference became hostility, when she understood. All her old hatred for what he was and meant, all her fundamental antagonism to the purpose of his life–and to him–came at last, openly, to the light. She was forced to reveal herself. Not only has she no love, no reverence for him, but she cannot bear that others should learn to love him and to reverence him. She sneered at his claim to distinction; she refused her consent to our project. It is a terrible thing for me to say–but I must–and you will understand me–you who will not care less for her because she is so wrong–what I feel most of all in her attitude is a childish, yet a cruel, jealousy. She cannot endure that she should be so put into the dark by the spreading of his light. The greater his radiance is shown to be, the more in the wrong will all her life be proved;–it is that that she will not hear of. She _wants_ him to be obscure, undistinguished, negligible, because it’s that that she has always thought him.”

Sir Basil, while she spoke, had kept his eyes fixed on the hand he held, a beautiful hand, white, curiously narrow, with pointed, upturned finger-tips. Once or twice a dull color rose to his sunburned cheek, but in his well-balanced mind was a steady perception of what the filial grief and pain must be from which certain words came. He could not resent them; it was inevitable that a child who had so loved her father should so think and feel. And her self-control, her accurate fluency, answered with him for her sincerity as emotion could not have done. Passion would never carry this noble girl into overstatement. Fairness constrained him to admit, while he listened, that dark color in his cheek, that her view of her father was more likely to be right than her mother’s view. An unhappily married woman was seldom fair. Mrs. Upton had never mentioned her husband to him, never alluded to him except in most formal terms; but the facts of her flight from the marital hearth, the fact that he had made her so unhappy, had been to him sufficient evidence of Mr. Upton’s general unworthiness. Now, though Imogen’s tragic ardor did not communicate any of her faith in her father’s wonder or nobility, it did convince him of past unfairness toward, no doubt, a most worthy man. Incompatibility, that had been the trouble; he one of these reformer people, very much in earnest; and Mrs. Upton, dear and lovely though she was, with not a trace of such enthusiasm in her moral make-up.

So, when Imogen had finished, though he sat silent for a little while, though beneath the steady survey of what she put before him was a stirring of trouble, it was in a tone of quiet acceptance that he at last said, looking up at her, “Yes; I quite see what you feel about it. To you, of course, they must look like that, your mother’s reasons. They must look very differently to her, that goes without saying. We can’t really make out these things, you know, these fundamental antagonisms; I never knew it went as far as that. But I quite see. Poor child. I’m very sorry. It is most awfully hard on you.”

“Don’t think of me!” Imogen breathed out on a note of pain. “It’s not of myself I’m thinking, not of my humiliation and despair–but of him!–of him!–Is it _right_ that I should submit? _Ought_ a project like ours to be abandoned for such a reason?”

Again Sir Basil was silent for some moments, considering the narrow white hands. “Perhaps she’ll come round,–think better of it.”

“Ah!–” it was now on a note of deep, of tremulous hope that she breathed it out, looking into his eyes with the profound, searching look so moving to him; “Ah!–it’s there, it’s there, that you could help me. She would never yield to me. She might to you.”

“Oh, I don’t think that likely,” Sir Basil protested, the flush darkening.

“Yes, yes,” said Imogen, leaning toward him above his clasp of her hand. “Yes, if anything is likely that is so. If hope is anywhere, it’s there. Don’t you see, in her eyes I stand for _him_. To yield to me would be like yielding to him, would be his triumph. That’s what she can’t forgive in me–that I do stand for him, that I live by all that she rejected. She would never yield to me,–but she might yield _for_ you.”

“Shall I speak to her about it?” Sir Basil asked abruptly, after another moment in which Imogen’s hand grasped his tightly, its soft, warm fingers more potent in appeal than even her eyes had been. And now, again, she leaned toward him, her eyes inundating him with radiant trust and gratitude, her hands drawing his hand to her breast and holding it there, so clasped.

“Will you?–Oh, will you?–dear Sir Basil.”

Sir Basil stammered a little. “I’ll have a try–It’s hard on you, I think. I don’t see why you shouldn’t have your heart’s desire. It’s an awfully queer thing to do,–but, for your sake, I’ll have a try–put it to her, you know.”

“Ah, I _knew_ that you were big,” said Imogen.

He looked at her, his hand between her hands. The flowering laurel was behind her head. The pine-forest murmured about them. The sky was blue above them, and the deep blue of the distance lay at their feet. Suddenly, as they looked into each other’s eyes, it dawned in the consciousness of both that something was happening.

It was to Sir Basil that it was happening. Imogen’s was but the consciousness of his experience. Such a thing could hardly happen to Imogen. Neither her senses, nor her emotions, nor her imagination played any dominant part in her nature. She was incapable of falling in love in the helpless, headlong, human fashion that the term implies. But though such feeling lacked, the perception of it in others was swift, and while she leaned to Sir Basil in the sunlight, while she clasped his hand to her breast, while their eyes dwelt deeply on each other, she seemed to hear, like a rising chime of wonder and delight, the ringing of herald bells that sang: “Mine–mine–mine–if I choose to take him.”

Wonderful indeed it was to feel this influx of certain power. Sunlight, like that about them, seemed to rise, slowly, softly, within her, like the upwelling of a spring of joy.

It was happening, it had happened to him, his eyes told her that; but whether he knew as she did she doubted and, for the beautiful moment, it added a last touch of charm to her exultation to know that, while she was sure, she could leave that light veil of his wonder shimmering between them.

With the vision of the unveiling her mind leaped to the thought of her mother and of Jack, and with that thought came a swift pulse of vengeful gladness. So she would make answer to them both–the scorner–the rejector. Not for a moment must she listen to the voices of petty doubts and pities. This love, that lay like a bauble in her mother’s hand–an unfit ornament for her years–would shine on her own head like a diadem. Unasked, undreamed of, it had turned to her; it was her highest duty to keep and wear it. It was far, far more than her duty to herself; it was her duty to this man, finished, mature, yet full of unawakened possibility; it was her duty to that large, vague world that his life touched, a world where her young faiths and vigors would bring a light such as her mother’s gay little taper could never spread. These thoughts, and others, flashed through Imogen’s mind, with the swiftness and exactitude of a drowning vision. Yet, after the long moment of vivid realization, it was at its height that a qualm, a sinking overtook her. The gift had come; of that she was sure. But its triumphant displayal might be delayed–nay, might be jeopardized. Some perverse loyalty in his nature, some terrified decisiveness of action on her mother’s part, and the golden reality might even be made to crumble. For one moment, as the qualm seized her, she saw herself–and the thought was like a flying flame that scorched her lips as it passed–she saw herself sweeping aside the veil, sinking upon his breast, with tears that would reveal him to himself and her to him.

But it was impossible for Imogen to yield open-eyed to temptation that could not be sanctified. Her strong sense of personal dignity held her from the impulse, and a quick recognition, too, that it might lower her starry altitude in his eyes. She must stand still, stand perfectly still, and he would come to her. She could protect him from her mother’s clinging–this she recognized as a strange yet an insistent duty–but between him and her there must not be a shadow, an ambiguity.

The radiance of the renunciation, the resolve, was in her face as she gently released his hand, gently rose, standing smiling, with a strange, rapt smile, above him.

Sir Basil rose, too, silent, and looking hard at her. She guessed at the turmoil, the wonder of his honest soul, his fear lest she did guess it, and, with the fear, the irrepressible hope that, in some sense, it was echoed.

“My dear, dear friend,” she said, putting her hand on his shoulder, as though with the gesture she dubbed him her knight, “my more than friend–shall it be elder brother?–I believe that you will be able to help me and my father. And if you fail–my gratitude to you will be none the less great. I can’t tell you how I trust you, how I care for you.”

From his face she looked up at the sky above them; and in the sunlight her innocent, uplifted smile made her like a heavenly child. “Isn’t it wonderful?–beautiful?–” she said, almost conquering her inner fear by the seeming what she wished to be. “Look up, Sir Basil!–Doesn’t it seem to heal everything,–to glorify everything,–to promise everything?”

He looked up at the sky, still speechless. Her face, her smile–the sky above it–did it not heal, glorify, promise in its innocence? If a great thing claims one suddenly, must not the lesser things inevitably go?–Could one hold them?–Ought one to try to hold them? There was tumult in poor Sir Basil’s soul, the tumult of partings and meetings.

But when everything culminated in the longing to seize this heavenly child–this heavenly woman–to seize and kiss her–a sturdy sense of honesty warned him that not so could he, with honor, go forward. He must see his way more clearly than that. Strange that he had been so blind, till now, of where all ways, since his coming to Vermont, had been leading him. He could see them now, plainly enough.

Taking Imogen’s hand once more, he pressed it, dropped it, looked into her eyes and said, as they turned to the descent: “That was swearing eternal friendship, wasn’t it!”

XXI

Violent emotions, in highly civilized surroundings, may wonderfully be effaced by the common effort of those who have learned how to live. Of these there were, perhaps, not many in our little group; but the guidance of such a past mistress of the art as Imogen’s mother steered the social craft, on this occasion, past the reefs and breakers into a tolerably smooth sea.

With an ally as facile, despite his personal perturbations, as Sir Basil, a friend like Mrs. Wake at hand–a friend to whom one had never to make explanations, yet who always understood what was wanted of her,–with a presence so propitious as the calm and unconscious Miss Bocock, the sickening plunges of explanation and recrimination that accompany unwary seafaring and unskilful seamanship were quite avoided in the time that passed between Valerie’s appearance at the tea-table–where she dispensed refreshment to Mrs. Wake, Miss Bocock, and Jack only–and the meeting of all the ship’s crew at dinner.

Valerie, in that ominous interlude, even when Sir Basil appeared on the veranda, alone, but saying that he had been for a walk with Miss Upton, who was tired and had gone to her room to rest, even when she observed that the Pottses had decided upon maintaining a splendid isolation in their own chambers, did not permit the ship to turn for one moment in such a direction. She had tea sent up to Imogen and tea sent up to the Pottses; but no messages of any sort accompanied either perfectly appointed tray, and when the dinner hour arrived she faced the Pottses’ speechless dignity and Imogen’s _mater dolorosa_ eyelids with perfect composure. She seemed, on meeting the Pottses, neither to ignore nor to recall.

She seemed to understand speechlessness, yet to take it lightly, as if on their account. She talked at them, through them, with them, really, in such a manner that they were drawn helplessly into her shuttle and woven into the gracefully gliding pattern of social convention in spite of themselves. In fact, she preserved appearances with such success that everyone, to each one’s surprise, was able to make an excellent dinner.

After high emotions, as after high seas, the appetite is capricious, shrinking to the shudder of repulsion or rising to whetted keenness. Valerie had the satisfaction of seeing that her crew, as they assured themselves–or, rather, as she assured them–that the waters were silken in their calm, showed the reaction from moral stress in wholesome sensuous gratification. Even Mrs. and Mr. Potts, even Imogen, were hungry.

She herself had still too strongly upon her the qualm of imminent shipwreck to do more than seem to join them; but it was only natural that the captain, who alone was conscious of just how near the reefs were and of just how threatening the horizon loomed, should lack the appetite that his reassuring presence evoked. Jack noticed that she ate nothing, but he alone noticed it.

It was perhaps Jack who noticed most universally at that wonderful little dinner, where the shaded candle-light seemed to isolate them in its soft, diffused circle of radiance and the windows, with their faintly stirring muslin curtains, to open on a warm, mysterious ocean of darkness. The others were too much occupied with their own particular miseries and in their own particular reliefs to notice how the captain fared.

Mrs. Wake must, no doubt, guess that something was up, but she couldn’t in the least guess how much. She watched, but her observation, her watchfulness, could be in no sense like his own. Miss Bocock, in a low-cut blouse of guipure and pale-blue satin, her favorite red roses pinned on her shoulder, her fringe freshly and crisply curled above her eyeglasses, was the only quite unconscious presence, and so innocent was her unconsciousness that it could not well be observant. Indeed, in one sinking moment, she leaned forward, with unwonted kindliness, to ask the stony Mrs. Potts if her headache was better, a question received with a sphinx-like bow. Apart, however, from the one or two blunders of unconsciousness, Jack saw that Miss Bocock was very useful to Valerie; more useful than himself, on whom, he felt, her eye did not venture to rest for any length of time. Too tragic a consciousness would rise between them if their glances too deeply intermingled.

Miss Bocock’s gaze, behind its crystal medium, was a smooth surface from which the light balls of dialogue rebounded easily. Miss Bocock thought that she had never talked so well upon her own topics as on this occasion, and from the intentness of the glances turned upon her she might well have been misled as to her effectiveness. The company seemed to thirst for every detail as to her theory of the rise of the Mycenean civilization. Mrs. Wake, for all her tact, was too wary, too observant, to fill so perfectly the part of buffer-state as was Miss Bocock.

If one wanted pure amusement, with but the faintest tincture of pity to color it, the countenances of the Pottses were worth close study. That their silence was not for one moment allowed to become awkward, to themselves, or to others, Jack recognized as one of Valerie’s miracles that night, and when he considered that the Pottses might not guess to whom they owed their ease, he could hardly pity them. That their eyes should not meet his, except for a heavy stare or two, was natural. After this meeting in the mirage-like oasis that Valerie made bloom for them all, he knew that for the Pottses he would be relegated to the sightless, soundless Saharas of a burning remembrance. It was but a small part of his attention that was spared to the consciousness that Mr. Potts was very uplifted, that Mrs. Potts was very tense, and that Mrs. Potts’s dress, as if in protest against any form of relaxation and condonation, was very, very high and tight. Indeed, Mrs. Potts, in her room, before the descent, had said to her husband, in the mutual tones of their great situation, laying aside with resolution the half-high bodice that, till then, had marked her concession to fashionable standards, “Never, never again, in her house. Let her bare her bosom if she will. I shall protest against her by every symbol.”

Mr. Potts, with somber justice, as though he exonerated an Agrippina from one of many crimes, had remarked that the bosom, as far as he had observed it, had been slightly veiled; but:–“I understand those tuckers,” Mrs. Potts had replied with a withering smile, presenting her back for her husband to hook, a marital office that usually left Mr. Potts in an exhausted condition.

So Mrs. Potts this evening seemed at once to mourn, to protest and to accuse, covered to her chin with a relentless black.

But, though Jack saw all this, he was not in the humor for more than a superficial sense of amusement. With his excited sense of mirth was a deeper sense of disaster, and the poor Pottses were at once too grotesque and too insignificant to satisfy it.

It was upon Imogen and Sir Basil that his eye most frequently turned. Valerie had put them together, separated from herself by the whole length of the table; Mr. Potts was on Imogen’s other hand; Miss Bocock sat between Mr. Potts and Valerie, and Jack, Mrs. Wake and Mrs. Potts brought the circle round to Sir Basil, a neat gradation of affinities.

Jack, in a glance, had seen that Imogen had been passionately weeping; he could well imagine that grief. But before her pallid face and sunken eyes he knew that his heart was hardened. Never, judged from a dispassionate standard, had Imogen been so right, and her rightness left him indifferent. If she had been wrong; if she had been, in some sense guilty, if her consciousness had not been so supremely spotless, he would have been sorrier for her. It was the woman beside him whose motives he could not penetrate, whose action to-day had seemed to him mistaken, it was for her that his heart ached. Imogen he seemed to survey from across a far, wide chasm of alienation.

Sir Basil was evidently as bent on helping her as was her mother. He talked very gaily, tossing back all Valerie’s balls. He rallied Miss Bocock on her radical tendencies, and engaged in a humorous dispute with Mrs. Wake in defense of racing. Imogen, when he spoke, turned her eyes on him and listened gravely. When her mother spoke, she looked down at her plate. But once or twice Jack caught her eye, while her mother’s attention was engaged elsewhere, resting upon her with a curious, a piercing intentness. Such a cold glitter, as of steel, was in the glance, that, instinctively, his own turned on Valerie, as if he had felt her threatened.

This instinct of protection was oddly on the watch to-night. Under the sense of mirth and disaster a deeper thing throbbed in him, some inarticulate sorrow, greater than the apparent causes warranted, that mourned with and for her. In the illumination of this intuition Valerie, he thought, had never been so lovely as to-night. It seemed to him that her body, with its indolence of aspect, expressed an almost superhuman courage. She was soft and fragile and weary, leaning there in her transparent black, her cheek in her hand, her elbow, in, its loose sleeve, resting on the table; but she made him think of a reed: that the tempest could not break.

Her face was pale, he had never seen it so drained of its dusky rose. There was something inexpressibly touching in the flicker of her smile on the white, white cheek, in the innocent gaiety of the dimple placed high and recalling Japanese suggestions, vague as the scent of sandal-wood. She, too, had wept, as he well knew; and his heart ached, dully, as he thought of that bitter weeping, those tears, of humility and pain. Her eyelids, strangely discolored, were like the petals of a melancholy flower, and her eyes were heavy and gentle.

A vague, absurdly alarming sense of presage grew upon him as his eyes went from this face to Imogen’s–so still, so cold, so unanswering, lightened, as if from a vail of heavy cloud, by that stealthy, baleful, illuminating glance. In Imogen’s whole bearing he read renouncement, but renouncement, in her hand, would assuredly prove a scourge for her mother’s shoulders. For the time that they must be together, she and her mother, her sense of her own proved rightness would be relentless, as inflexible as and as relentless as her sense of bitter wrong.

Valerie’s shoulders were bared and bowed. She was ready to take it all. But it was here, for Jack, that the deep instinct of protection centered at last in a clear decision; it was here that he felt himself rush in with the only solution, the only salvation. At the thought of it, that one solution, his heart ached more sharply, but it ached for himself alone. For she must go away; yes, that was the only escape; she must go away at once, with Sir Basil. She had failed. She had said it to him that morning in a few broken sentences before relinquishing the hand she grasped.

“I’ve done more than fail. I’ve wrecked things”; and she had smiled piteously upon him and left him.

He knew of what she spoke, of the disaster that, as she had seen, finally and irrevocably had overtaken his love for her child.

And it was true, of course. She had failed. She had wrecked things; but in his eyes, the failure she bore, the destruction she brought, made others dark, not her. She must accept the irony of things,–it was not on her that its shadow rested, and she must go, back to her own place, back to her own serene, if saddened, sunlight, where she could breathe again and be safe from scourgings. Thank heaven for Sir Basil, was Jack’s thought, over that sharpened ache. And it was with this thought that, for Jack, came the first sinister whisper, the whisper that, as suddenly as the hiss of a viper trodden upon in the grass, warned him of the fulfilment, clear, startling, unimaginable, of all dim presages.

He always remembered, ludicrously, that they had reached the sweet when the whisper came, and with his recollection of its import there mingled for him always the incongruous association of sliced peaches and iced cream. He had just helped himself to this dish when, raising his eyes, he saw Sir Basil looking at Imogen.

It was, apparently, a calm, a thoughtful look, and as Imogen’s eyes were downcast to her fruit and cream, which she was eating with much appetite, she did not then meet it. But it was a look a little off guard;–his perception of that was the first low sibilant that reached him;–it was a look full of gentle solicitude, full of brooding, absorbed intentness; and presently, when Imogen, as if aware of it, glanced up and met it, Sir Basil deeply flushed and turned his eyes away.

This passage was a small enough cause to make one suddenly grow very chilly; Jack tried to tell himself that, as he mechanically went on eating. Perhaps Imogen had confided in Sir Basil; perhaps he agreed with her, was sorry, sympathetic, and embarrassed by a sympathy that set him against the woman he loved; perhaps he already felt a protecting, paternal affection for Imogen, just as he himself, in the absurd inversions of their situation, felt a protecting filial affection for Valerie. But at that thought–as if the weak links of his chain of possibilities had snapped and left him at the verge of a chasm, a sudden echo in himself revealed depths of disastrous analogy. It was revelation that came to Jack, rather than self-revelation; the instinct that flamed up in him at this moment was like a torch in a twilit cavern. He might have seen the looming shapes fairly well without it, but, by its illumination, every uncertainty started out into vivid light and dark. The fact that his own feeling was so far other than filial did not detain him. His light was not turned upon himself; of himself he only knew, in that dazzling moment, that he was armed as her knight, armed for her battle as a son could not have been; it was upon Sir Basil, upon Imogen, that the torch-light rested.

He looked presently from them to Valerie. Did she know at all what was her peril? Had she seen at all what threatened her? Her face told him nothing. She was talking to Miss Bocock, and her serenity, as of mellow moonlight, cooled and calmed him a little so that he could wonder whether the peril was very imminent. Even if the unbelievable had happened;–even if Imogen had ensnared Sir Basil–Jack’s thoughts, in dealing with poor Imogen, passed in their ruthlessness beyond the facts–even if she had ensnared him, surely, surely, she could not keep him. The glamour would pass from him. He would be the first to fight clear of it were he fully aware of what it signified. For Imogen knew,–the torch-light had revealed that to Jack,–Imogen knew, he and Imogen, alone, knew. Sir Basil didn’t and Valerie didn’t. Single-handed he might save them both. Save them both from Imogen.

To this strange landing-place had his long voyage, away from old ports, old landmarks, brought him; and on its rocks he stepped to-night, bound on a perilous quest in an unknown country. It seemed almost like the coast of another planet, so desolate, so lonely. But beyond the frowning headlines he imagined that he would find, far inland, quiet green stretches where he would rest, and think of her. The landing was bathed in a light sadder, but sweeter far than the sunlight of other countries. Here he was to fight, not for himself, but for her.

The first move of strategy was made directly after dinner. He asked Imogen to come out and see the moonlight with him.

A word to the wise was a word to Mrs. Wake, who safely cornered Miss Bocock and the Pottses over a game of cards. Jack saw Valerie and Sir Basil established on the veranda, and then led Imogen away, drew her from her quarry, along the winding path in the woods.

XXII

Valerie, on sinking into the low wicker chair, and drawing her chuddah about her shoulders, drawing it closely, although the evening was not cool had expected to find Jack, or Mrs. Wake, or Miss Bocock presently beside her.

She had watched, as they wandered, all of them, into the drawing-room, the hovering, long since familiar to her, of Sir Basil. She had seen that his eye was as much on Imogen as on herself. She had seen Imogen’s eye meet his with a deep insistence. What it commanded, this eye, Valerie did not know, but she had grown accustomed to seeing such glances obeyed and she expected to watch, presently, Imogen’s and Sir Basil’s departure into the moonlit woods.

It was, therefore, with surprise that she looked up to see Sir Basil’s form darken against the sky. He asked if he might smoke his cigar beside her, and the intelligent smile he knew so well rested upon him as he took the chair next hers.

In the slight pause that followed, both were thinking that, since their parting in England they had really been very seldom alone together, and in Sir Basil’s mind was a wonder, very disquieting, as to what, really, had been the understanding under the parting.

He was well aware that any vagueness as to understanding had been owing entirely to Valerie, well aware that had she not always kept about them the atmosphere of sunny frankness and gay friendship, he would without doubt have entangled himself and her in the complications of an avowed devotion, and that long before her husband’s death. For how she had charmed him, this gay, this deep-hearted friend, descending suddenly on his monotonous life with a flutter of wings, a flash of color, a liquid pulse of song, like some strange, bright bird. Charm had grown to affection and to trustful need, and then to the restlessness and pain and sadness of his hidden passion. He would have spoken, he knew it very well, were it not that she had never given him the faintest chance to speak, the faintest excuse for speaking. She had kept him from any avowal so completely that he might well, now, wonder if his self-control had not been owing far more to the intuition of hopelessness than to mere submission. Could she have kept him so silent, had she been the least little bit in love with him? He had, of course, been tremendously in love with her–it was bewildering to use the past tense, indeed–and she, of course, clever creature that she was, must have known it; but hadn’t he been very fatuous in imagining that beneath her fond, playful friendship lay the possibility of a deeper response?

Since seeing her again, in her effaced, maternal role, he had realized that she was more middle-aged than he had ever thought her, and since coming to Vermont there had been a new emphasis in this cool, gray quality that removed her the more from associations with youth and passion. So was he brought, by the dizzy turn of events, to hoping that loyalty to his own past love was, for him, the only question, since loyalty to her, in that respect, had never been expected of him.

Yet, as he took his place beside her and looked at her sitting there in the golden light, wrapped round in white, very wan and pale, despite her smile, he felt the strangest, twisted pang of divided desire.

She was wan and she was pale, but she was not cool, she was not gray; he felt in her, as strongly as in far-off days, the warmth and fragrance, and knew that it was Imogen who had so cast her into a shadow. Her image had grown dim on that very first time of seeing Imogen standing as Antigone in the rapt, hushed theater. That dawn had culminated to-day in the over-mastering, all-revealing burst of noon, and from its radiance the past had been hardly visible except as shadow. But now he sat in the moonlight, the past personified in the quiet presence beside him, and the memory of noonday itself became mirage-like and uncertain. He almost felt as if he had been having a wild dream, and that Valerie’s glance was the awakening from it.

To think of Imogen’s filial grief and of his promise to her,–a promise deeply recalled to him by the message of her tear-worn eyes,–to steady his mind to the task of friendly helpfulness, was to put aside the accompanying memory of eyes, lips, gold hair on a background of flowering laurel, was to re-enter, through sane, kind altruism, his old, normal state of consciousness, and to shut the door on something very sweet and wonderful, to shut the door–in Imogen’s phraseology–on his soul, but, in doing that, to be loyal to the older hope.

Perhaps, he reflected, looking at Valerie through the silvery circles of smoke, it depended on her as to whether the door should remain shut on all the high visions of the last weeks. After all, it had always depended on her, tremendously, as to where he should find himself. Certainly he couldn’t regard her as the antithesis of soul, though he didn’t associate her with its radiant demonstration, yet he felt that, if she so willed it, she could lock the door on visions and keep him sanely, safely, sweetly beside her for the future. If she really did care. Poor Sir Basil, sitting there in his faint cloud of smoke, while clouds of doubt and perplexity–as impalpable drifted through his mind, really couldn’t for the life of him have told which solution he most hoped for.

He plunged from the rather humiliating pause of self-contemplation into the more congenial field of action, with a last swift thought–most illuminating of all–as he plunged–that in the results of action he would find his test. If she cared for him–really cared–she would grant his request; and if she cared, why then, not only reawakened loyalty, but some very deep acquiescence in his own nature, would keep him beside her, and to-night would see them as affianced lovers. It would be a pity to have let one’s new-found soul go; but, after all, it was so very new that the pang of parting would soon be over; that was a good point about middle-age, one soon got over pangs, soon forgot visions.

“I want to talk to you about something. I’m going to ask you to be kinder to me, even, than you’ve ever been,”–so he approached the subject, while the mingled peace and bitterness of the last thoughts lingered with him. “I’m going to ask you to let me be very indiscreet, very intimate. It’s about something very personal.”

Valerie no longer smiled, but she looked even more gentle and even more intelligent. “I will be as kind as you can possibly want me to be,” she answered.

“It’s about–about Miss Upton.”

“About Imogen? Don’t you call her Imogen yet? You must.”

“I will. I’ve just begun”; and with this avowal Sir Basil turned away his eyes for a moment, and even in the moonlight showed his flush. “I had a long talk with her this afternoon.”

“Yes. I supposed that you had. You may be perfectly frank with me,” said Valerie, her eyes on his averted face.

“She was most dreadfully cut up, you know. She came rushing up to the pine woods–I was smoking there–rushing up as if she were running for her life–crying,–exhausted,–in a dreadful state.”

“Yes. I know.”

“Yes, of course you do. What don’t you know and what don’t you understand,” said Sir Basil gratefully, his eyes coming back to hers. “So I needn’t go over it all–what she feels about it. I realize very well that you feel for her as much as I do.”

“Oh, yes, you must realize that,” said Valerie, a little faintly.

“She was in such a state that one simply had to try to comfort her,–if one could,–and we have come to be such friends;–so she told me everything.”

“Yes. Of course.”

“Well that’s just it. What I want to ask you is–can’t you, for her sake, quite apart from your own feelings–give in about it?” So spoke Sir Basil, sitting in the moonlight, the spark of his cigar waning as, in the long pause that followed, he held it, forgotten, in an expectant, arrested hand. Her voice had helped and followed him with such gentleness, such understanding that, though the pause grew, he hardly thought that it needed the added, “I do beg it of you,” that he brought out presently to make her acquiescence more sure; and his shock of disappointment was sharpened by surprise to a quick displeasure when, her eyes passing from his face and resting for long on the shadowy woods, she said in a deadened voice, a voice strangely lacking in feeling:–“I can’t.”

He couldn’t conceal the disappointment nor, quite, the displeasure. “You can’t? Really you can’t?–Forgive me, but don’t you think she’s a right to have it written, her father’s life, you know, if she feels so deeply about it?”

“I can’t. I will never give my consent,” Valerie repeated.

“But, she’s breaking her heart over it,” Sir Basil deeply protested; and before the quality of the protestation she paused again, as though to give herself time to hide something.

“I know that it is hard for her,” was all she said at last.

Protestation gave way to wonder, deep and sad. “And for her sake–for _my_ sake, let me put it–you can’t let bygones be bygones?–You can’t give her her heart’s desire?–My dear friend, it’s such a little thing.”

“I know that. But it’s for his sake that I can’t,” said Valerie.

Sir Basil, at this, was silent, for a long time. Perplexity mingled with his displeasure, and the pain of failure, the strangely complex pain.

She did not care for him enough; and she was wrong, and she was fantastic in her wrongness. For his sake?–the dead husband, whom, after all, she had abandoned and made unhappy?–Imogen’s words came crowding upon him like a host of warning angel visages. She actually told him that this cruel thwarting of her child was for the sake of the child’s father?

It was strange and pitiful that a woman so sweet, so lovely, should so grotesquely deceive herself as to her motives for refusing to see bare justice done.

“May I ask why for him?–I don’t understand,” he said.

Valerie now turned her eyes once more on his face. With his words, with the tone, courteous yet cold, in which they were spoken, she recognized a reached landmark. For a long time she had caught glimpses of it, ominously glimmering ahead of her, through the sunny mists of hope, across the wide stretches of trust. And here it was at last, but so suddenly, for all her presages, that she almost lost her breath for a moment in looking at it and what it marked. Here, unless she grasped, paths might part. Here, unless