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  • 1907
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you, or quarrel with anyone so comfortably;–and besides,” Rose added with characteristic impertinence, “the truth is, my dear, that I want to be your mother’s daughter. It’s that that has done it. I want to show her how nice a daughter can be to her. I want to take Imogen’s place. I’ll be an extremely bad wife, Eddy, but a good daughter-in-law. I adore your mother so much that for her sake I’ll put up with you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And–and–she?”–Imogen accepted the restatement, though her voice trembled a little more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XXX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Going back?”–She repeated his words with vagueness.

“Yes; to where you’ve always liked to live.”

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

“And still like it.”

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

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

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

“Oh, but you do,” said Jack with conviction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dear Jack, thank you,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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