The Story of Julia Page by Kathleen Thompson Norris
To Emeline, wife of George Page, there came slowly, in her thirtieth year, a sullen conviction that life was monstrously unfair. From a resentful realization that she was not happy in her marriage, Emeline's mind went back to the days of her pert, precocious childhood and her restless and discontented girlhood, and she felt, with a sort of smouldering fury, that she had never been happy, had never had a fair chance, at all!
It took Mrs. Page some years to come to this conclusion, for, if she was shrewd and sharp among the women she knew, she was, in essential things, an unintelligent woman, and mental effort of any sort was strange to her. Throughout her entire life, her mind had never been truly awakened. She had scrambled through Grammar School, and had followed it with five years as saleswoman in a millinery store, in that district of San Francisco known as the Mission, marrying George Page at twenty-three, and up to that time well enough pleased with herself and her life.
But that was eight years ago. Now Emeline could see that she had reached--more, she had passed--her prime. She began to see that the moods of those early years, however violent and changing, had been fed upon secret springs of hope, hope vague and baseless enough, but strong to colour a girl's life with all the brightness of a thousand dawns. There had been rare potentialities in those days, anything might happen, something would happen. The little Emeline Cox, moving between the dreary discomfort of home and the hated routine of school, might surprise all these dull seniors and school-mates some day! She might become an actress, she might become a great singer, she might make a brilliant marriage.
As she grew older and grew prettier, these vague, bright dreams strengthened. Emeline's mother was an overworked and shrill-voiced woman, whose personality drove from the Shotwell Street house whatever small comfort poverty and overcrowding and dirt left in it. She had no personal message for Emeline. The older woman had never learned the care of herself, her children, her husband, or her house. She had naturally nothing to teach her daughter. Emeline's father occasionally thundered a furious warning to his daughters as to certain primitive moral laws. He did not tell Emeline and her sisters why they might some day consent to abandon the path of virtue, nor when, nor how. He never dreamed of winning their affection and confidence, or of selecting their friends, and making home a place to which these friends might occasionally come. But he was fond of shouting, when Emeline, May, or Stella pinned on their flimsy little hats for an evening walk, that if ever a girl of his made a fool of herself and got into trouble, she need never come near his door again! Perhaps Emeline and May and Stella felt that the virtuous course, as exemplified by their parents, was not all of roses, either, but they never said so, and always shuddered dutifully at the paternal warning.
School also failed with the education of the inner Emeline, although she moved successfully from a process known as "diagramming" sentences to a serious literary analysis of "Snow- Bound" and "Evangeline," and passed terrifying examinations in ancient history, geography, and advanced problems in arithmetic. By the time she left school she was a tall, giggling, black-eyed creature, to be found walking up and down Mission Street, and gossiping and chewing gum on almost any sunny afternoon. Between her mother's whining and her father's bullying, home life was not very pleasant, but at least there was nothing unusual in the situation; among all the girls that Emeline knew there was not one who could go back to a clean room, a hospitable dining-room, a well-cooked and nourishing meal. All her friends did as she did: wheedled money for new veils and new shoes from their fathers, helped their mothers reluctantly and scornfully when they must, slipped away to the street as often as possible, and when they were at home, added their complaints and protests to the general unpleasantness.
Had there been anything different before her eyes, who knows what plans for domestic reform might have taken shape in the girl's plastic brain? Emeline had never seen one example of real affection and cooperation between mother and daughters, of work quickly and skilfully done and forgotten, of a clean bright house and a blossoming garden; she had never heard a theory otherwise than that she was poor, her friends were poor, her parents were poor, and that born under the wheels of a monstrous social injustice, she might just as well be dirty and discouraged and discontented at once and have done with it, for in the end she must be so. Why should she question the abiding belief? Emeline knew that, with her father's good pay and the excellent salaries earned by her hard-handed, patient-eyed, stupid young brothers, the family income ran well up toward three hundred dollars a month: her father worked steadily at five dollars a day, George was a roofer's assistant and earned eighty dollars a month, and Chester worked in a plumber's shop, and at eighteen was paid sixty-five dollars. Emeline could only conclude that three hundred dollars a month was insufficient to prevent dirt, crowding, scolding, miserable meals, and an incessant atmosphere of warm soapsuds.
Presently she outraged her father by going into "Delphine's" millinery store. Delphine was really a stout, bleached woman named Lizzie Clarke, whose reputation was not quite good, although nobody knew anything definite against her. She had a double store on Market Street near Eleventh, a dreary place, with dusty models in the windows, torn Nottingham curtains draped behind them, and "Delphine" scrawled in gold across the dusty windows in front. Emeline used to wonder, in the days when she and her giggling associates passed "Delphine's" window, who ever bought the dreadful hats in the left-hand window, although they admitted a certain attraction on the right. Here would be a sign: "Any Hat in this Window, Two Dollars," surrounded by cheap, dust-grained felts, gaudily trimmed, or coarse straws wreathed with cotton flowers. Once or twice Emeline and her friends went in, and one day when a card in the window informed the passers-by that an experienced saleslady was wanted, the girl, sick of the situation at home and longing for novelty, boldly applied for the position. Miss Clarke engaged her at once.
Emeline met, as she had expected, a storm at home, but she weathered it, and kept her position. It was hard work, and poorly paid, but the girl's dreams gilded everything, and she loved the excitement of making sales, came eagerly to the gossip and joking of her fellow-workers every morning, and really felt herself to be in the current of life at last.
Miss Clarke was no better than her reputation, and would have willingly helped her young saleswoman into a different sort of life. But Emeline's little streak of shrewd selfishness saved her. Emeline indulged in a hundred little coarsenesses and indiscretions, but take the final step toward ruin she would not. Nobody was going to get the better of her, she boasted. She used rouge and lip red. She "met fellers" under flaming gas jets, and went to dance halls with them, and to the Sunday picnics that were her father's especial abomination; she shyly told vile stories and timidly used strong words, but there it ended. Perhaps some tattered remnant of the golden dream still hung before her eyes; perhaps she still clung to the hope of a dim, wonderful time to come.
More than that, the boys she knew were not a vicious lot; the Jimmies and Johnnies, the Dans and Eds, were for the most part neighbours, no more anxious to antagonize Emeline's father than she was. They might kiss her good-night at her door, they might deliberately try to get the girls to miss the last train home from the picnic, but their spirit was of idle mischief rather than malice, and a stinging slap from Emeline's hand afforded them, as it did her, a certain shamed satisfaction.
George Page came into "Delphine's" on a windy summer afternoon when Emeline had been there for nearly five years. He was a salesman for some lines of tailored hats, a San Franciscan, but employed by a New York wholesale house. Emeline chanced to be alone in the place, for Miss Clarke was sick in bed, and the other saleswoman away on her vacation. The trimmers, glancing out through a plush curtain at the rear, saw Miss Cox and the "drummer" absorbed in a three hours' conversation. From two to five o'clock they talked; the drummer watching her in obvious admiration when an occasional customer interrupted, and when Miss Cox went home the drummer escorted her. Emeline had left the parental roof some two years before; she was rooming, now, with a mild and virtuous girl named Regina Lynch, in Howard Street. Regina was the sort of girl frequently selected by a girl of Emeline's type for confidante and companion: timid, conventional, always ready to laugh and admire. Regina consented to go to dinner with Emeline and Mr. Page, and as she later refused to go to the theatre, Emeline would not go either; they all walked out Market Street from the restaurant, and reached the Howard Street house at about nine o'clock. Regina went straight upstairs, but Emeline and George Page sat on the steps an hour longer, under the bright summer moon, and when Emeline went upstairs she woke her roommate up, and announced her engagement.
George came into the store at nine o'clock the next morning, to radiantly confirm all that they had said the night before, and with great simplicity the two began to plan for their future; from that time they had breakfast, lunch, and dinner together every day; they were both utterly satisfied; they never questioned their fate. In October George had to go to San Diego, and a dozen little cities en route, for the firm, and Emeline went, too. They were married in the little church of Saint Charles in Eighteenth Street, only an hour or two before they started for San Jose, the first stop in George's itinerary. Emeline's mother and sisters came to her wedding, but the men of the family were working on this week-day afternoon. The bride looked excited and happy, colour burned scarlet in her cheeks, under her outrageous hat; she wore a brown travelling gown, and the lemon-coloured gloves that were popular in that day. Emeline felt that she was leaving everything unpleasant in life behind her. George was the husband of her dreams--or perhaps her dreams had temporarily adapted themselves to George.
But, indeed, he was an exceptionally good fellow. He was handsome, big, dashingly dressed. He was steady and successful in his work, domestic in his tastes, and tenderly--and perhaps to-day a little pityingly--devoted to this pretty, clever girl who loved him so, and had such faith in him. His life had kept him a good deal among men, and rather coarse men; he had had to do more drinking than he cared to do, to play a good deal of poker, to listen to a good deal of loose talk. Now, George felt a great relief that this was over; he wanted a home, a wife, children.
The bride and groom had a cloudless three weeks of honeymoon among a score of little Southern towns--and were scarcely less happy during the first months of settling down. Emeline was entirely ignorant of what was suitable or desirable in a home, and George had only the crude ideals of a travelling man to guide him. They enthusiastically selected a flat of four handsome, large, dark rooms, over a corner saloon, on O'Farrell Street. The building was new, the neighbourhood well built, and filled with stirring, interesting life. George said it was conveniently near the restaurant and theatre district, and to Emeline, after Mission Street, it seemed the very hub of the world. The suite consisted of a large front drawing-room, connected by enormous folding doors with a rear drawing-room, which the Pages would use as a bedroom, a large dining-room, and a dark kitchen, equipped with range and "water back." There were several enormous closets, and the stairs and hall, used by the several tenants of the house, were carpeted richly. The Pages also carpeted their own rooms, hung the stiff folds of Nottingham lace curtains at the high narrow windows, and selected a set of the heavily upholstered furniture of the period for their drawing-room. When Emeline's mother and sisters came to call, Emeline showed them her gold-framed pictures, her curly- maple bed and bureau, her glass closet in the dining-room, with its curved glass front and sides and its shining contents--berry saucers and almond dishes in pressed glass, and other luxuries to which the late Miss Cox had been entirely a stranger. Emeline was intoxicated with the freedom and the pleasures of her new life; George was out of town two or three nights a week, but when he was at home the two slept late of mornings, and loitered over their breakfast, Emeline in a loose wrapper, filling and refilling her coffee cup, while George rattled the paper and filled the room with the odour of cigarettes.
Then Emeline was left to put her house in order, and dress herself for the day--her corsets laced tight at the waist, her black hair crimped elaborately above her bang, her pleated skirts draped fashionably over her bustle. George would come back at one o'clock to take her to lunch, and after lunch they wandered up and down Kearney and Market streets, laughing and chatting, glad just to be alive and together. Sometimes they dined downtown, too, and afterward went to the "Tivoli" or "Morosco's," or even the Baldwin Theatre, and sometimes bought and carried home the materials for a dinner, and invited a few of George's men friends to enjoy it with them. These were happy times; Emeline, flushed and pretty in her improvised apron, queened it over the three or four adoring males, and wondered why other women fussed so long over cooking, when men so obviously enjoyed a steak, baked potatoes, canned vegetables, and a pie from Swain's. After dinner the men always played poker, a mild little game at first, with Emeline eagerly guarding a little pile of chips, and gasping over every hand like a happy child; but later more seriously, when Emeline, contrary to poker superstition, sat on the arm of her husband's chair, to bring him luck.
Luck she certainly seemed to bring him; the Pages would go yawning to bed, after one of these evenings, chuckling over the various hands.
"I couldn't see what you drew, George," Emeline would say, "but I could see that Mack had aces on the roof, and it made me crazy to have you go on raising that way! And then your three fish hooks!"
George would shout with pride at her use of poker terms--would laugh all the harder if she used them incorrectly. And sometimes, sinking luxuriously into the depths of the curly-maple bed, Emeline would think herself the luckiest woman in the world. No hurry about getting up in the morning; no one to please but herself; pretty gowns and an adoring husband and a home beyond her maddest hopes--the girl's dreams no longer followed her, happy reality had blotted out the dream.
She felt a little injured, a little frightened, when the day came on which she must tell George of some pretty well-founded suspicions of her own condition. George might be "mad," or he might laugh.
But George was wonderfully soothing and reassuring; more, was pathetically glad and proud. He petted Emeline into a sort of reluctant joy, and the attitude of her mother and sisters and the few women she knew was likewise flattering. Important, self- absorbed, she waited her appointed days, and in the early winter a wizened, mottled little daughter was born. Julia was the name Emeline had chosen for a girl, and Julia was the name duly given her by the radiant and ecstatic George in the very first hour of her life. Emeline had lost interest in the name--indeed, in the child and her father as well--just then; racked, bewildered, wholly spent, she lay back in the curly-maple bed, the first little seed of that general resentment against life that was eventually to envelop her, forming in her mind.
They had told her that because of this or that she would not have a "hard time," and she had had a very hard time. They had told her that she would forget the cruel pain the instant it was over, and she knew she never would forget it. It made her shudder weakly to think of all the babies in the world--of the schools packed with children--at what a cost!
Emeline recovered quickly, and shut her resentment into her own breast. Julie, as she was always called, was a cross baby, and nowadays the two front rooms were usually draped with her damp undergarments, and odorous of sour bottles and drying clothes. For the few months that Emeline nursed the child she wandered about until late in the day in a loose wrapper, a margin of draggled nightgown showing under it, her hair in a tumbled knot at the back of her head. If she had to run out for a loaf of bread or a pound of coffee, she slipped on a street skirt, and buttoned her long coat about her; her lean young throat would show, bare above the lapels of the coat, but even this costume was not conspicuous in that particular neighbourhood.
By the time Julia was weaned, Emeline had formed the wrapper habit; she had also slipped back to the old viewpoint: they were poor people, and the poor couldn't afford to do things decently, to live comfortably. Emeline scolded and snapped at George, shook and scolded the crying baby, and loitered in the hall for long, complaining gossips with the other women of the house.
Time extricated the young Pages from these troubled days. Julia grew into a handsome, precocious little girl of whom both parents could be proud. Emeline never quite recovered her girlish good looks, her face was thin now, with prominent cheek bones; there was a little frowning line drawn between her eyes, and her expression was sharp and anxious, but she became more fond of dress than ever.
George's absences were a little longer in these days; he had been given a larger territory to cover--and Emeline naturally turned for society toward her women neighbours. There were one or two very congenial married women of her own type in the same house, pleasure-loving, excitable young women; one, a Mrs. Carter, with two children in school, the other, Mrs. Palmer, triumphantly childless. These introduced her to others; sometimes half a dozen of them would go to a matinee together, a noisy, chattering group. During the matinee Julia would sit on her mother's lap, a small awed figure in a brief red silk dress and deep lace collar. Julia always had several chocolates from the boxes that circulated among her elders, and usually went to sleep during the last act, and was dragged home, blinking and whining and wretched, by one aching little arm.
George was passionately devoted to his little girl, and no toy was too expensive for Julia to demand. Emeline loved the baby, too, although she accepted as a martyrdom the responsibility of supplying Julia's needs. But the Pages themselves rather drifted apart with the years. Both were selfish, and each accused the other of selfishness, although, as Emeline said stormily, no one had ever called her that before she was married, and, as George sullenly claimed, he himself had always been popularity's self among the "fellows."
In all her life Emeline had never felt anything but a resentful impatience for whatever curtailed her liberty or disturbed her comfort in the slightest degree. She had never settled down to do cheerfully anything that she did not want to do. She had shaken off the claims of her own home as lightly as she had stepped from "Delphine's" to the more tempting position of George's wife. Now she could not believe that she was destined to live on with a man who was becoming a confirmed dyspeptic, who thought she was a poor housekeeper, an extravagant shopper, a wretched cook, and worse than all, a sloven about her personal appearance. Emeline really was all these things at times, and suspected it, but she had never been shown how to do anything else, and she denied all charges noisily.
One night when Julia was about four George stamped out of the house, after a tirade against the prevailing disorder and some insulting remarks about "delicatessen food." Emeline sent a few furious remarks after him, and then wept over the sliced ham, the potato salad, and the Saratoga chips, all of which she had brought home from a nearby delicacy shop in oily paper bags only an hour ago. She wandered disconsolately through the four rooms that had been her home for nearly six years. The dust lay thick on the polished wood and glass of the sideboard and glass closet in the dining-room; ashes and the ends of cigarettes filled half a dozen little receptacles here and there; a welter of newspapers had formed a great drift in a corner of the room, and the thick velour day cover of the table had been pushed back to make way for a doubled and spotted tablecloth and the despised meal. The kitchen was hideous with a confusion of souring bottles of milk, dirty dishes, hardened ends of loaves, and a sticky jam jar or two; Emeline's range was spotted and rusty, she never fired it now; a three-burner gas plate sufficed for the family's needs. In the bedroom a dozen garments were flung over the foot of the unmade bed, Julia's toys and clothing littered this and the sitting-room, the silk woof had been worn away on the heavily upholstered furniture, and the strands of the cotton warp separated to show the white lining beneath. On the mantel was a litter of medicine bottles and theatre programs, powder boxes, gloves and slippers, packages of gum and of cigarettes, and packs of cards, as well as more ornamental matters: china statuettes and glass cologne bottles, a palm-leaf fan with roses painted on it, a pincushion of redwood bark, and a plush rolling-pin with brass screws in it, hung by satin ribbons. Over all lay a thick coat of dust.
Emeline took Julia in her lap, and sat down in one of the patent rockers. She remained for a long time staring out of the front window. George's words burned angrily in her memory--she felt sick of life.
A spring twilight was closing down upon O'Farrell Street. In the row of houses opposite Emeline could see slits of gaslight behind lowered shades, and could look straight into the second floor of the establishment that flourished behind a large sign bearing the words, "O'Connor, Modes." This row of bay-windowed houses had been occupied as homes by very good families when the Pages first came to O'Farrell Street, but six years had seen great changes in the block. A grocery and bar now occupied the corner, facing the saloon above which the Pages lived, and the respectable middle- class families had moved away, one by one, giving place to all sorts of business enterprises. Milliners and dressmakers took the first floors, and rented the upper rooms; one window said "Mme. Claire, Palmist," and another "Violin Lessons"; one basement was occupied by a dealer in plaster statuary, and another by a little restaurant. Most interesting of all to the stageloving Emeline was the second floor, obliquely opposite her own, which bore an immense sign, "Gottoli, Wigs and Theatrical Supplies. Costumes of all sorts Designed and on Hand." Between Gottoli's windows were two painted panels representing respectively a very angular, moustached young man in a dress suit, and a girl in a Spanish dancer's costume, with a tambourine. Gottoli did not do a very flourishing business, but Emeline watched his doorway by the hour, and if ever her dreams came back now, it was at these times.
To-night Julia went to sleep in her arms; she was an unexacting little girl, accustomed to being ignored much of the time, and humoured, over-indulged, and laughed at at long intervals. Emeline sat on and on, crying now and then, and gradually reducing herself to a more softened mood, when she longed to be dear to George again, to please and content him. She had just made up her mind that this was no neighbourhood for ideal home life, when George, smelling strongly of whiskey, but affectionate and repentant, came in.
"What doing?" asked George, stumbling in the dark room.
"Just watching the cable cars go up and down," Emeline said, rousing. She set the dazed Julia on her feet, and groped for matches on the mantel. A second later the stifling odour of block matches drifted through the room, and Emeline lighted a gas jet.
"Had your supper?" said she, as George sat down and took the child into his arms.
"Nope," he answered, grinning ashamedly. "Thought maybe you and I'd go to dinner somewheres, Em."
Emeline was instantly her better self. While she flew into her best clothes she told George that she knew she was a rotten manager, but she was so darn sick of this darn flat--She had just been sitting there wondering if they hadn't better move into the country, say into Oakland. Her sister May lived there, they might get a house near May, with a garden for Julia, and a spare room where George could put up a friend.
George was clumsily enthusiastic. Gosh, if she would do that--if she could stand its being a little quiet--
"I'd get to know the neighbours, and we'd have real good times," said Emeline optimistically, "and it would be grand for Julie!"
Julia had by this time gone off to sleep in the centre of the large bed. Her mother removed the child's shoes and some of her clothing, without rousing her, loosened her garters, and unbuttoned whatever buttons she could reach.
"She'll be all right," she said confidently. "She never wakes."
George lowered the gas, and they tiptoed out. But Julie did waken half an hour later, as it happened, and screamed for company for ten hideous minutes. Then Miss Flossie Miniver, a young woman who had recently rented the top floor, and of whom Emeline and the other ladies of the house disapproved, came downstairs and softly entered the Page flat, and gathered the sobbing little girl to her warm, soft breast. Miss Miniver soothed her with a new stick of gum and a pincushion that looked like a fat little pink satin leg, with a smart boot at one end and a ruffle of lace at the other, and left Julia peacefully settled down to sleep. But Julia did not remember anything of this in the morning, and the pincushion had rolled under the bed, so Emeline never knew of it. She and George had a good dinner, and later went to the Orpheum, and were happier than they had been for a long time.
The next Sunday they went to Oakland to see Emeline's sister, and possibly to begin househunting. It was a cold, dark day, with a raw wind blowing. Gulls dipped and screamed over the wake of the ferryboat that carried the Pages to Oakland, and after the warm cabin and the heated train, they all shivered miserably as they got out at the appointed corner. Oakland looked bleak and dreary, the wind was blowing chaff and papers against fences and steps.
Emeline had rather lost sight of her sister for a year or two, and had last seen her in another and better house than the one which they presently identified by street and number. The sisters had married at about the same time, but Ed Torney was a shiftless and unfortunate man, never steadily at work, and always mildly surprised at the discomfort of life. May had four children, and was expecting a fifth. Two of the older children, stupid-looking little blondes, with colds in their noses, and dirt showing under the fair hair, were playing in the dooryard of the shabby cottage now. The gate hung loose, the ground was worn bare by children's feet and dug into holes where children had burrowed, and littered with cans and ropes and boxes.
Emeline was genuinely shocked by the evidences of actual want inside. May was a thin, bent, sickly looking woman now, her graying hair hanging in a loose coil over her cotton wrapper. Floors everywhere were bare, a few chairs were here and there, a few beds running over with thin bedding, a table in the kitchen was covered with scattered dishes, some dirty and some clean. Ashes drifted out of the kitchen stove, and in the sink was a great tin dish-pan full of cool, greasy water. The oldest child, a five-year-old girl, had followed these dazzling visitors in, and now mounted a box and attacked this dish-pan with pathetic energy. The two younger children sat on the floor, apathetically staring. May made only a few smiling apologies. They "could see how she was," she said, limping to a chair into which she dropped with a sigh of relief. They had had a "fierce" time since Ed--Ed was the husband and father--had lost his job a year ago. He had not been able to get anything permanent since. Ed had been there just a minute ago, she said--and indeed the odour of tobacco was still strong on the close air--but he had been having a good deal of stomach trouble of late, and the children made him nervous, and he had gone out for a walk. Poor May, smiling gallantly over the difficulties of her life, drew her firstborn to her knees, brushed back the child's silky, pale hair with bony, trembling fingers, and prophesied that things would be easier when mamma's girlies got to work: Evelyn was going to be a dressmaker, and Marguerite an actress.
"She can say a piece out of the Third Reader real cute--the children next door taught her," said May, but Marguerite would not be exploited; she dug her blonde head into her mother's shoulder in a panic of shyness; and shortly afterward the Pages went away. Uncle George gave each child a dime, Julia kissed her little cousins good-bye, and Emeline felt a sick spasm of pity and shame as May bade the children thank them, and thanked them herself. Emeline drew her sister to the door, and pressed two silver dollars, all she happened to have with her, into her hand.
"Aw, don't, Em, you oughtn't," May said, ashamed and turning crimson, but instantly she took the money. "We've had an awful hard time--or I wouldn't!" said she, tears coming to her eyes.
"Oh, that's all right!" Emeline said uncomfortably, as she ran down the steps. Her heart burned with sympathy for poor May, who had been so pretty and so clever! Emeline could not understand the change! May had graduated from High School with honours; she had held a good position as a bookkeeper in a grocery before her marriage, but, like Emeline, for the real business of life she had had no preparation at all. Her own oldest child could have managed the family finances and catered to sensitive stomachs with as much system and intelligence as May.
On the boat Emeline spoke of her little money gift to her sister, and George roused himself from a deep study to approve and to reimburse her. They did not speak again of moving to the country, and went straight from the boat to a French table d'hote dinner, where Julia, enchanted at finding herself warm and near food after the long cold adventures of the day, stuffed herself on sardines and sour bread, soup and salad, and shrimps and fried chicken, and drank tumblers of claret and sugar and ice water.
There were still poker parties occasionally in the Page flat; Emeline was quite familiar with poker phraseology now, and if George seemed less pleased than he had been when she rattled away about hands, the men who came were highly diverted by it. Two or three other wives generally joined the party now; there would be seven or eight players about the round table.
They all drank as they played, the room would get very warm, and reek of tobacco and of whiskey and beer. Sometimes Julia woke up with a terrified shout, and then, if Emeline were playing, she would get George, or one of the other men or women, to go in and quiet the little girl. These games would not break up until two or three o'clock. Emeline would be playing excitedly, her face flushed, her eyes shining, every fibre of her being alert, when suddenly the life would seem to fade out of the whole game. An overwhelming ennui would seize her, a cold, clear-eyed fatigue-- the cards would seem meaningless, a chill would shake her, a need of yawning. The whole company would be suddenly likewise affected, the game would break up with a few brief words, and Emeline, going in with her guests to help them with hats and wraps, would find herself utterly silent, too cold and weary for even the most casual civilities. When the others had gone, she and George would turn the lights out on the wreckage of the dining-room, and stagger silently to bed.
Fatigue would follow Emeline well into the next day after one of these card parties. If George was going out of town, she would send Julia off to play with other children in the house, and lie in bed until noon, getting up now and then to hold a conversation with some tradesman through a crack in the door. At one she might sally forth in her favourite combination of wrapper and coat to buy cream and rolls, and Julia would be regaled on sausages, hot cakes, bakery cookies, and coffee, or come in to find no lunch at all, and that her mother had gone out for the afternoon.
Emeline had grown more and more infatuated with the theatre and all that pertained to it. She went to matinees twice a week, and she and her group of intimate friends also "went Dutch" to evening performances whenever it was possible. Their conversation was spattered with theatrical terms, and when, as occasionally happened, a real actress or even a chorus girl from the Tivoli joined their group, Emeline could hardly contain her eagerness and her admiration. She loved, when rare chance offered, to go behind the scenes; she frankly envied the egotistic, ambitious young theatrical beginners, so eager to talk of themselves and their talents, to discuss every detail from grease paint to management. To poor hungry Emeline it was like a revelation of another, brighter world.
She would loiter out from the brief enchantment of "Two True Hearts" into the foggy dampness of Market Street, at twilight, eagerly grasping the suggestion of ice-cream sodas, because it meant a few minutes more with her friends. Perhaps, sipping the frothy confection, Emeline would see some of the young actresses going by, just from the theatre, buttoned into long coats, their faces still rosy from cold cream; they must rush off for a light dinner, and be back at the theatre at seven. At the sight of them a pang always shot through Emeline, an exquisite agony of jealousy seized her. Oh, to be so busy, so full of affairs, to move constantly from one place to another--now dragging a spangled gown, now gay as a peasant, now gaudily dressed as a page!
Emeline would finish her soda in silence, lift the over-dressed Julia from her chair, and start soberly for home. Julia's short little legs ached from the quick walk, yet she hated as much as her mother the plunge from brightly lighted O'Farrell Street into their own hall, so large and damp and dark, so odorous of stale beer and rubber floor covering. A dim point of gas in a red shade covered with symmetrical glass blisters usually burned over the stairway, but the Pages' apartment was dark, except for a dull reflected light from the street. Perhaps Julia and her mother would find George there, with his coat and shoes off, and his big body flung down across the bed, asleep. George would wake up slowly, with much yawning and grumbling, Emeline would add her gloves and belt to the unspeakable confusion of the bureau, and Julia would flatten her tired little back against the curve of an armchair and follow with heavy, brilliant eyes the argument that always followed.
"Well, we could get some chops--chops and potatoes--and a can of corn," Emeline would grudgingly admit, as she tore off her tight corsets with a great gasp of relief, and slipped into her kimono, "or you could get some spaghetti and some mangoes at the delicatessen--"
"Oh, God, cut out the delicatessen stuff!" George invariably said; "me for the chops, huh, Julie?"
"Or--we could all go somewhere," Emeline might submit tentatively.
"Nit," George would answer. "Come on, Ju, we'll go buy a steak!"
But he was not very well pleased with his dinner, even when he had his own way. When he and Julia returned with their purchases Emeline invariably met them at the top of the stairs.
"We need butter, George, I forgot to tell you--you'll have to go back!" she would say. Julia, tired almost beyond endurance, still preferred to go with her father.
There was not enough gas heat under Emeline's frying pan to cook a steak well; George growled as he cut it. Emeline jumped up for forgotten table furnishings; grease splashed on the rumpled cloth. After the one course the head of the house would look about hungrily.
"No cheese in the house, I suppose?"
"No--I don't believe there is."
"What's the chances on a salad?"
"Oh, no, George--that takes lettuce, you know. My goodness!" And Emeline would put her elbows on the table and yawn, the rouge showing on her high cheek bones, her eyes glittering, her dark hair still pressed down where her hat had lain. "My goodness!" she would exclaim impatiently, "haven't you had enough, George? You had steak, and potatoes, and corn--why don't you eat your corn?"
"What's the chances on a cup of tea?" George might ask, seizing a half slice of bread, and doubling an ounce of butter into it, with his great thumb on the blade of his knife.
"You can have all the tea you want, but you'll have to use condensed milk!"
At this George would say "Damn!" and take himself and his evening paper to the armchair in the front window. When Emeline would go in, after a cursory disposition of the dishes, she would find Julia curled in his arms, and George sourly staring over the little silky head.
"It's up to you, and it's your job, and it makes me damn sick to come home to such a dirty pen as this!" George sometimes burst out. "Look at that--and look at that--look at that mantel!"
"Well--well--well!" Emeline would answer sharply, putting the mantel straight, or commencing to do so with a sort of lazy scorn. "I can't do everything!"
"Other men go home to decent dinners," George would pursue sullenly; "their wives aren't so darn lazy and selfish--"
Such a start as this always led to a bitter quarrel, after which Emeline, trembling with anger, would clear a corner of the cluttered drawing-room table and take out a shabby pack of cards for solitaire, and George would put Julia to bed. All her life Julia Page remembered these scenes and these bedtimes.
Her father sometimes tore the tumbled bed apart, and made it up again, smoothing the limp sheets with clumsy fingers, and talking to Julia, while he worked, of little girls who had brothers and sisters, and who lived in the country, and hung their stockings up on Christmas Eve. Emeline pretended not to notice either father or daughter at these times, although she could have whisked Julia into bed in half the time it took George to do it, and was really very kind to the child when George was not there.
When George asked the little girl to find her hairbrush, and blundered over the buttons of her nightgown, Emeline hummed a sprightly air. She never bore resentment long.
"What say we go out later and get something to eat, George?" she would ask, when George tiptoed out of the bedroom and shut the folding door behind him. But several hours of discomfort were not to be so lightly dismissed by George.
"Maybe," he would briefly answer. And invariably he presently muttered something about asking "Cass" for the time, and so went down to the saloon of "J. Cassidy," just underneath his own residence.
Emeline, alone, would brood resentfully over her cards. That was the way of it: men could run off to saloons, while she, pretty and young, and with the love of life still strong in her veins, might as well be dead and buried! Bored and lonely, she would creep into bed beside Julia, after turning the front-room light down to a bead, and flinging over the "bed lounge," upon which George spent the night, the musty sheets and blankets and the big soggy pillows.
But George, meanwhile, would have found warmth, brightness, companionship, and good food. The drink that was his passport to all these good things was the least of them in his eyes. George did not care particularly for drink, but he usually came home the worse for it on these occasions, and Emeline had a real foundation for her furious harangues in the morning. She would scold while she carried him in hot coffee or chopped ice, scold while she crimped her hair and covered her face with a liquid bleach, scold as she jerked Julia's little bonnet on the child's lovely mane, and depart, with a final burst of scolding and a bang of the door.
One day Emeline came in to find George at home, ill. She had said good-bye to him only the day before, for what was supposedly a week, and was really concerned to find him back so soon, shivering and mumbling, and apparently unable to get into bed. Emeline sent Julia flying to a neighbour, made George as comfortable as she could in the big bed, and listened, with a conviction as firm as his own, to what he believed to be parting instructions and messages.
"I'm going, Em," said George heavily. "I'm worse now than I was when I started for home. I wanted to see you again, baby girl, and Julia, too. I--I can't breathe---"
Julia presently came flying in with a doctor and with a neighbour, Mrs. Cotter, who had telephoned to him. The doctor said that George had a sharp touch of influenza, and Emeline settled down to nurse him.
George was a bad patient. He had a great many needs, and he mentioned one after another in the weighty, serious tone of a person imparting valuable information.
"Ice--ice," said George, moving hot eyes to meet his wife's glance as she came in. "And take that extra blanket off, Emeline, and--no hurry, but I'll try the soup again whenever you say--I seem to feel weak. I must have more air, dear. Help me sit up, Em, and you can shake these pillows up again. I think I'm a good deal sicker man than Allan has any idea---"
Emeline got very tired of it, especially as George was much better on the third day, and could sit up. He developed a stiff neck, which made him very irritable, and even Julia "got on his nerves" and was banished for the day to the company of the cheerful Jewish family who lived on an upper floor. He sat in an armchair, wrapped in blankets, his rigid gaze roving a pitifully restricted perspective of street outside the window, an elaborate cough occasionally racking him.
Emeline had gotten a fairly tempting dinner under way. She could cook some things well, and at five o'clock she came in from the kitchen with an appetizing tray.
"Gosh, is it dinner time?" asked George.
"After five," Emeline said, flitting about the bed-room. Julia had come home now, sweet and tired, and was silently eating slice after slice of bread and jelly. Emeline opened out the bed lounge, spread sheets and blankets smoothly, and flung a clean little nightgown for Julia across the foot. Darkness had fallen outside; she lighted the gas and drew the shades.
"This is comfortable!" said George. "I wouldn't mind being sick now and then at this rate! Come over here and undress near Pop, Julie. I'll tell you what, Em--you call down the air shaft to Cass, and tell him to send Henny up to make us a nice little coal fire here. I'll give Henny a quarter."
"She's gone into the bathroom to fix her hair and wash her face," Julia observed, as Emeline did not answer. A second later the child jumped up to answer a sharp knock on the door.
To George's disgust it was Emeline's friend, Mrs. Marvin Povey, who came in. Mrs. Povey was a tightly corseted, coarse-voiced, highly coloured little blonde, breathless now from running upstairs. Her sister, Myrtle Montague, was an ingenue in the little stock company at the Central Theatre, and Mrs. Povey kept house for her and Mr. Povey, who spent all his waking hours at the racetrack. The Poveys' flat was only a block away from the Pages'.
George was furious to have this woman, whom he particularly detested, come in upon him thus informally, and find him at so great a disadvantage. His neck was better, but he could not move it very easily still; he was trapped here in blankets like a baby; he was acutely conscious of his three days' beard, of Julia's bed made up in the middle of the drawing-room, and of Julia's self, partly disrobed, and running about in the general disorder.
"Well, how does the other feller look?" said Mrs. Povey, laughing good-naturedly. "You look like you'd broke out of San Quentin, George, with that face! Hello, darlin'," she added, waylaying Julia. "When are you going to come and be Aunt Mame's girl, huh? Going to come home with me to-night?"
"Em!" bellowed George, with only a sickly smile for the guest. "Em!"
"My God, what is it now?" said Emeline sweetly, popping in her head. "Oh, hello, Mame!" she added, coming in. "Where's the rest of the girls?"
"They've all blew up to the house with Myrt," said Mrs. Povey, staring blankly at Emeline. "But say, ain't you going, dear?"
"Wait till I get my dress on, and we'll talk it over while I hook up," Emeline said, disappearing again. She did not glance at George.
"Myrt's in a new show, and a few of us girls are going to see that she gets a hand," Mrs. Povey said. "We're going to have supper at my house. Mary will have some of the boys there."
"I guess Emeline will have to wait till the next time," George said coldly. "She wouldn't get much pleasure out of it, leaving me here as sick as I am!"
"Oh, I don't know!" Mrs. Povey half sang, half laughed. "Emeline likes a good time, like all the rest of us, George, and it don't do to keep a pretty girl shut up all the time!"
"Shut up? She's never here," George growled.
"Well, we'll see!" Mrs. Povey hummed contentedly. A moment later Emeline came in, wrenching the hooks of her best gown together. She had her hat on, and looked excited and resolute.
"I forgot I'd promised to go out with the girls, George," she began. "You don't care, do you? You've had your supper, and all Julia's got to do is get into bed."
George looked balefully from one to the other. Mrs. Povey chanced a quick little wink of approval and encouragement at Emeline, and he saw it.
"A lot you forgot!" he said harshly to his wife. "You've been getting ready for the last hour. Don't either of you think that you're fooling me--I see through it! I could lay here and die, and a lot you'd care! You forgot--ha!"
The blood rushed instantly to Emeline's face, she turned upon him her ugliest look, and the hand with which she was buttoning her glove trembled.
"Now, I'll tell you something, Mr. George Page!" said she, in an intense and passionate tone, "there are things I'd rather do than set around this house and hear you tell how sick you are! You think I'm a white chip in this family, but let me tell you something--there's plenty of lovely friends I got who think I'm a fool to keep it up! I had an offer to go on the stage, not a month ago, from a manager who didn't even know I was married; didn't I, Mame? And if it wasn't for Julie there---"
"You've not got anything on me, Em," George said, breathing hard, his face blood red with anger. "Do you think that if it wasn't for this kid, I'd---"
"Oh, folks--folks!" Mrs. Povey said, really concerned.
"Well, I don't care!" Emeline said, panting. She crossed the floor, still panting, kissed Julia, and swept from the room. Mrs. Povey, murmuring some confused farewell, followed her.
Julia climbed out of her big chair. Like all children, she was frightened by loud voices and domestic scenes; she was glad now that the quarrel was over, and anxious, in a small girl's fashion, to blot the recent unpleasantness from her father's mind.
She sat on his knee and talked to him, she sang, she patted his sore neck with sleek, dirty little fingers. And finally she won him. George laughed, and entered into her mood. He thought her a very smart little girl, as indeed she was. She had a precocious knowledge of the affairs of her mother's friends, sordid affairs enough, and more sordid than ever when retailed by a child's fresh mouth. Julia talked of money trouble, of divorce, of dressmaker's bills, of diseases; she repeated insolent things that had been said to her in the street, and her insolent replies; her rich, delicious laugh broke out over the memory of the "drunk" that had been thrown out of Cassidy's.
George laughed at it all; it sounded very funny to him, coming from this very small person, with her round, serious eyes, and her mop of gold. He asked her what she wanted him to bring her next time he came home, and Julia said black boots with white tops and tassels, and made him laugh again.
Thus early did Julia act as a mediator between her parents, but of this particular occasion she had no recollection, nor of much that followed it. Had she been a few years older she might really have affected a lasting reconciliation between them, for all that was best in George made him love his daughter, and Emeline was intensely proud of the child. As it was, Julia was too young. She might unconsciously be the means of reuniting them now and then, but she could not at all grasp the situation, and when she was not quite seven a decree of divorce, on the ground of desertion, set both Emeline and George free, after eight years of married life.
Emeline was too frightened at the enormity of the thing to be either glad or sorry. She had never meant to go so far. She had threatened George with divorce just as George had threatened her, in the heat of anger, practically since her wedding day. But the emotion that finally drove Emeline to a lawyer was not anger, it was just dull rebellion against the gray, monotonous level of her days. She was alone when George was away on trips; she was not less alone when he was in town. He had formed the habit of joining "the boys" in the evening; he was surly and noncommittal with his wife, but Julia, hanging about the lower hall door or playing with children in the street, always heard a burst of laughter as he joined his friends; everybody in the world--except Emeline--liked George!
Poor Emeline--she could easily have held him! A little tenderness toward him, a little interest in her home and her child, and George would have been won again. Had he but once come home to a contented wife and a clean house, George's wavering affection would have been regained. But Emeline was a loud-mouthed, assertive woman now, noisily set upon her own way, and filled with a sense of her own wrongs. She had discussed George too often with her friends to feel any possible interest in him except as a means of procuring sympathy. George bored her now; as a matter of fact, Emeline had almost decided that she would prefer alimony to George.
Goaded on by Mrs. Povey, and a young Mrs. Sunius, affectionately known as Maybelle, Emeline went to see a lawyer. The lawyer surprised her by his considerate brevity. Getting a divorce was a very simple affair, much better done than not. There were ways to make a man pay his alimony regularly, and the little girl would stay with her mother, of course; at her age no other solution was possible. Emeline felt that she must know how much expense she would be put to, and was gratified to find that it would cost her not more than fifty dollars. The lawyer asked her how soon she could get hold of her husband.
"Why, he'll let me know as soon as he's in town," Emeline said vaguely; "he'll come home."
"Come home, eh?" said the lawyer, with a shrewd look. "He knows your intentions, of course?"
"He ought to!" said Emeline with spirit, and she began again: "I don't think there's a person in the world could say that I'm not a good wife, Mr. Knowles! I never so much as looked at another man-- I swear to God I never did! And there's no other man in the case. If I can have my dolling little girl, and just live quiet, with a few friends near me, that's all I ask! If Mr. Page had his way, I'd never put foot out of doors; but mind you, he'd be off with the boys every night. And that means drink, you know--"
"Well, well," the young lawyer said soothingly, "I guess you've been treated pretty mean, all right."
Emeline went home to find--somewhat to her embarrassment--that George had come in, and was in his happiest mood, and playing with Julia. Julia had somehow lost her babyish beauty now; she was thin and lanky, four teeth were missing, and even her glorious mop of hair seemed what her mother called "slinky."
"I landed the Fox order right over Colton's head!" said George.
Emeline said: "I wish to the Lord you'd quit opening that window, leaving the wind blow through here like a cave!"
"Well, the place smelled like a Jap's room!" George retorted, instantly aggressive.
"We're going to the Park!" Julia chanted.
"How d'ye mean you're going to the Park?" Emeline asked, as she slammed down the offending window.
"Well, I thought maybe I'd take her there; kinder fun walking round and seeing things, what?" George submitted.
Emeline shrugged. "I don't care what you do!"
She sat down before a dresser with a triple mirror, which had lately been added to the bedroom furniture, and began to ruffle the coarse puffs of her black hair with slim, ringed fingers.
"You've got something better to do, of course!" George said.
"Don't go to a matinee, Mother!" said Julia, coming to lean coaxingly against her mother's arm. Emeline looked down at the pale, intelligent little face, and gave the child a sudden kiss.
"Mama isn't going to a matinee, doll baby. But papa ain't as crazy for her to go to the Park as you are!" she said, with an oblique and challenging glance at George.
"Oh, come on!" George urged impatiently. "Only don't wear that rotten hat," he added. "It don't look like a respectable woman!"
Emeline's expression did not change, but fury seethed within her.
"Don't wait for me," she said levelly. "I'm not going."
"Well, put the kid's hat on then," George suggested, settling his own with some care at the mantel mirror.
"Get your hand-embroidered dress out of your drawer, Julia," said her mother, "and the hat Aunt Maybelle gave you!"
"I'm going to Cass's to telephone, and I need some cigarettes," George announced from the door. "I'll be back in five minutes for Julie."
"Don't forget to get a drink while you're in Cass's," Emeline reminded him, as she flung an embroidered dress over Julia's limp little draggled petticoats. George's answer was a violent slamming of the hall door.
Julia's little face was radiant as her mother tied on a soiled white straw bonnet covered with roses, and put a cologne-soaked handkerchief into the pocket of her blue velvet coat. The little girl did not have many pleasures; there were very few children in the neighbourhood, and Julia was not very strong; she easily caught colds in dark O'Farrell Street, or in the draughty hall. All winter long she had been hanging over the coal fire in the front room, or leaning against the window watching the busy street below--but today was spring! Sunlight glorified even the dreary aspect from the windows above "J. Cassidy's" saloon, and the glorious singing freshness of the breeze, the heavenly warmth of the blue air, had reached Julia's little heart.
When she was quite dressed, and was standing at the window patiently watching for her father, Emeline came and stood beside her.
"I'll tell you what!" said Emeline suddenly. "I'll go, too! It's too grand to be indoors today; we'll just go out to the Park and take in the whole show! And then perhaps papa'll take us somewhere to dinner!"
She began swiftly to dress, pinning on a hat that George liked, and working on long gray kid gloves as a complement to a gray gown. Then she came to stand behind Julia again, and both watched the street.
"I guess he's waiting for his change?" suggested Julia, and Emeline laughed.
"We'll walk over and take the Geary Street car," said she. "We'll go right to the fountain, and get dummy seats. And we could have dinner at the Poodle Dog--"
"Here he comes!" Julia cried. And indeed George was to be seen for a moment, between two friends, standing on the corner.
A long wait ensued. Then steps came up the stairs. Emeline, followed by Julia, went to the door. It was not George, but a note from George, delivered by Henny, of Cassidy's saloon.
"Dear Em," Emeline read, "a couple of the fellows want me to go to Emeryville, have dinner at Tony's, and sit in a little game afterward. Tell Julie I will take her to the Park to-morrow--and buy her anything she wants. George."
"Thanks, Henny," Emeline said, without visible emotion. But Julia's lip quivered, and she burst into bitter crying. Six-years- old knows no tomorrows, and Julia tasted the bitterness of despair. She cried quietly, her little body screwed into a big armchair, her face hidden in the crook of a thin little arm. Emeline stood it as long as she could, then she slapped and shook Julia to stop her, and Julia strangled and shrieked hysterically.
Peace was presently restored, and Julia was asked if she would like to go see her Auntie Mame, and assented with a hiccough. So her mottled little face was wiped with a soggy gray towel, and her bonnet straightened, and they set out.
Mrs. Povey was so sympathetic that Emeline stayed with her for dinner, a casual meal which Myrtle Montague and a sister actress came in to share. Julia sat with them at table, and stuffed solemnly on fresh bread and cheese, crab salad and smoked beef, hot tomato sauce and delicious coffee. The coffee came to table in a battered tin pot, and the cream was poured into the cups from the little dairy bottle, with its metal top, but Julia saw these things as little as any one else--as little as she saw the disorderly welter of theatrical effects in the Poveys' neglected rooms, the paint on the women's faces, the ugly violence and coarseness of their talk.
But she did see that they were an impulsive, warm-hearted, generous set. Nobody ever spoke crossly to her, she was given the freedom of their rooms, she listened to their chatter, she was often caught up for embraces heavy with cologne; they loved to dress her up in preposterous costumes, and shouted with laughter at the sight of her in Dolly Varden bonnets, Scotch kilts, or spectacles and wigs. "Baby doll," "Lovey," and "Honey Babe" were Julia's names here, and she was a child hungry for love and eager to earn it. To-night she ate her supper in that silence so grateful to grown people, and afterward found some stage jewellery and played with it until her head was too heavy to hold up any longer. Then she went to sleep upon an odorous couch piled deep with all sorts of odd garments, her feet thrust into a tangle of lifeless satin pillows, her head upon the fur lining of some old cape, a banjo prodding her uncomfortably whenever she stirred.
Julia--all pins and needles--was presently jerked up into a glare of lights, and tied into the rose-crowned bonnet, and buttoned into the velvet coat again. She had not been covered as she slept, and sneezed and shivered in the cold night air. Emeline walked along briskly, and Julia stumbled beside her. The child was in such an agony of fatigue and chill that every separate step toward bed was dreaded by this time. She fell against her mother, as Emeline tore off shoes and stockings, stretched blundering, blind little arms for her nightgown sleeves, and sank deliciously against her pillows, already more than half asleep.
But Emeline sat wide eyed, silent, waiting for George.
George did not come home at all that night. On the next afternoon- -Sunday afternoon--Julia was playing in the street with two other small girls. Their game was simple. The three huddled into the deep doorway that led to Julia's home, clinging tight to each other, laughing and shouting. Then at a given signal they rushed screaming forth, charged across the street as if pursued by a thousand furies, and took shelter in a similar doorway, next to the saloon across the street. This performance had been repeated, back and forth, perhaps a dozen times, when Julia found her father waylaying her.
"Where y' going?" asked Julia, noticing that he carried a hand bag.
George sat down on the dirty cement steps that connected his dwelling with the sidewalk, and drew Julia between his knees.
"I've got to go away, baby," said he soberly.
"And ain't choo going to take me to the Park--never?" asked Julia, with a trembling lip.
George freed a lock of her hair that had gotten caught in her collar, with clumsy, gentle fingers.
"Mama's mad at me, and I'm going away for a while, Babe," said he, clearing his throat. "But you be a good girl, and I'll come take you to the Park some day."
Something in the gravity of his tone impressed Julia.
"But I don't want you to go away," she said tearfully. George got up hastily.
"Come on, walk with Pop to the car," he commanded, and Julia trotted contentedly beside him to Market Street. There she gave him a child's soft, impersonal kiss, staring up at the buildings opposite as she did so. George jumped on a cable car, wedged his bag under his knees as he took a seat on the dummy, and looked back at the little figure that was moving toward the dingy opening of O'Farrell Street, and at the spring sunshine, bright on the child's hair.