The Story of Julia Page by Kathleen Thompson Norris
The Studdifords, with some four hundred other San Francisco society folk, regarded the Browning dances as quite the most important of the winter's social affairs, and Julia, who thoroughly liked the host and the brilliant assembly, really enjoyed them more than the smaller and more select affairs. The Brownings were a beloved and revered institution; very few new faces appeared there from year to year, except the very choice of the annual crop of debutantes. Little Mrs. Studdiford had made a sensation when she first came, at her handsome husband's side, a year ago, her dazzling prettiness set off by the simplest of milk- white Paris gowns, her wonderful crown of hair wound about with pearls. Now she was a real favourite, and at the January ball, in her second winter in society, a score of admirers assured her that her gown was the prettiest in the room.
"That pleases you, doesn't it, Jim?" she smiled, as he put her into a red velvet armchair, at the end of the long ballroom, and dropped into a chair beside her.
"Well, it's true," Jim assured her, "and, what's more, you're the most beautiful woman in the room, too!"
"Oh, Jeemy! What a story! But go get your dances, dear, if we're not going to stay for supper. Here's Mrs. Thayer to amuse me," said Julia, as a magnificent old woman came toward her with a smile.
"Not dancing, dear?" said the dowager, as she sank heavily into the seat Jim left. "Whyn't you dancing with the other girls? I"-- she panted and fanned, idly scanning the room--"I tell Brownie I don't know how he gets the men!" she added, "lots of 'em; supper brings 'em, probably! Whyn't you dancing, dear?"
"She's implying that her ankle was sprained," Jim grinned, departing. Julia dimpled. The dowager brought an approving eye to bear upon her.
"Well--well, you don't say so? Now that's very nice indeed," she said comfortably; "well, I declare! I hadn't heard a word of it-- and you're glad, of course?"
"Oh, very glad!" Julia assured her, colouring.
"That's nice, too!" Mrs. Thayer rumbled on, her eyes beginning again to rove the room. "Fuss, of course, and lots of trouble, but you forget all that! Yes, I love children myself, used to be the most devoted mother alive, puttin' 'em to bed, and all that, yes, indeed!"
"You had two?" Julia hazarded. The dowager gave her a surprised glance.
"I, me dear? I had five--Rose there, that's Mrs. St. John, and Kate, you know her? Mrs. Willis, and my boy that's in Canada now, and the boy I lost, and Lillian--Lily we called her, she was only three. Diphtheria."
"Oh!" Julia said, shocked.
"Yes, indeed, I thought it would break Colonel Thayer's heart," pursued Mrs. Thayer, fanning regally, and watching the room. "She was the first--Lily would be nearly forty now! Look, Julia, who is that with Isabel Wallace? Who? Oh, yes, Mary Chauncey. See if you can see her husband anywhere. I'd give a good deal to know if she came with him!"
"Mrs. Thayer," said Julia presently, "how long have you been coming to the Brownings?"
"I? Oh, since they were started, child. There was a little group of us that used to dance round at each other's houses, then some of the men got together and formed a little club--Brownie was one of them. The Saunders used to come. Ella was about eighteen, and Sally and Anna Toland, and the Harts, and the Kirkwoods. Who's that with young Brice, Julia, me dear? Peter Coleman, is it?"
"Talking to Mr. Carter, yes, that's Mr. Coleman. He's a beautiful dancer," said Julia.
"Peter is? Yes, well, then, why don't you--But you're not dancing, of course, "Mrs. Thayer said. "There's Gordon Jones and his wife! Why Brownie ever let them in I don't--Ah, Ella, how are you, dear?"
"Fine, thank you!" said the newcomer, a magnificent woman of perhaps forty, in a very beautiful gown. "How do you do, Mrs. Studdiford?" she added cordially, as she sat down. "Dancing, surely?"
"Now she's got the best reason in the world for not dancing," said old Mrs. Thayer, with a protective motion of her fan.
"Oh--so?" Miss Saunders said, after a quick look of interrogation. "Well, that's--dutiful, isn't it?" She raised her eyebrows, made a little grimace, and laughed.
"Now, Ella, don't ye say anything wicked!" Mrs. Thayer warned her, and the fan was used to tap Miss Saunders sharply on her smooth, big arm.
"Wicked!" Miss Saunders said negligently, watching the dancers, "I think it's fine. I always said I'd have ten. Is Jim pleased?"
"He's perfectly delighted--yes," Julia assented, suddenly feeling that this careless talk, in this bright, hot room, was not fair to the little one she already loved so dearly.
"Is that Mrs. Brock or Vera?" Mrs. Thayer asked. "I declare they look alike!"
"That's Alice," Ella answered, after a glance, "don't you know that blue silk? They've got the Hazzards with them."
"Gets worse every year, absolutely," the old lady declared, "doesn't it, Ella? Emily here?"
"No, she's wretched, poor kid. But Ken's here somewhere. There are the Geralds," Miss Saunders added, leaning toward the old woman and sinking her tone to a low murmur. "Have you heard about Mason Gerald and Paula Billings--oh, haven't you? Not about the car breaking down--haven't you? Well, my dear--"
Julia lost the story, and sat watching the room, a vague little smile curving her lips, her blue eyes moving idly to and fro. She saw Mrs. Toland come in with her two lovely daughters. Julia had had tea with them that afternoon at the hotel, where they would spend the night. The orchestra was silent just now, and the dancers were drifting about the room, a great brilliant circle. Some of the men were clapping their hands, all of them were laughing as they bent their sleek heads toward their partners, and all the girls were laughing, too, and talking animatedly as they raised wide-open eyes. Julia admired the gowns: shining pink and cloudy pink, blue with lace and blue with spangles, white alone, and white with every colour in the world; a yellow and black gown that was indescribably dashing, and a yellow and black gown that somehow looked very flat and dowdy. She noticed the Ripley pearls on Miss Dolly Ripley's scrawny little lean neck, and that charming Isabel Wallace danced a good deal with her own handsome, shy young brothers, and seemed eager that they should enjoy what was evidently their first Browning. She studied the old faces, the hard faces, the faded faces, the painted cheeks and powdered necks; she read the tragedy behind the drooping head of some debutante, the triumph in the high laugh of another. There was poor Connie Fox, desperately eager and amiable, dancing with the youngest men and the oldest men, glittering and jolly in her dingy blue silk; and Connie's mother, who was her chaperon, a little fluttering fool of a woman, nervously eager to ingratiate, and nervously afraid to intrude her company upon these demi-gods and goddesses; and Theodora Carleton, handsome in too low cut a gown, laughing with Alan Gregory, and aware, as every one in the room was aware, that her husband's first wife was also at the dance. The room grew warm, the air heavy with delicate perfumes. Men were mopping their faces; some of the debutantes looked like wilting roses; the faces of some of the older women were shining. It was midnight, the latest comers had arrived, the floor was well filled.
"I wonder if I will be doing this twenty years from now," thought Julia. "I wonder if my daughter will come to the Brownings, then?"
"... which I call disgraceful, don't you, Mrs. Studdiford?" asked Miss Saunders suddenly.
"I beg your pardon!" Julia said, startled into attention, "I didn't hear you!"
"I know you didn't," the other said, laughing, "nevertheless, it was a low trick," she added to Mrs. Thayer, "and Leila Orvis can wait a long time before she makes the peace with me! Charity's all very well, but when it comes to palming off girls like that upon your friends, it's just a little too much!"
"How's it happen ye didn't ask the girl for any references, me dear?" asked Mrs. Thayer.
"Because Leila told me she knew all about her!" snapped Miss Saunders.
"What was she, a waitress?" Julia asked, amused.
"No, she was nothing!" Miss Saunders said in high scorn; "she'd had no training whatever--not that I mind that. She was simply supposed to help with the pantry work and make herself generally useful. Well, one day Carrie, a maid Mother's had for years, told Mother that something this Ada had said she fancied Ada had been in some sort of reform school--imagine! Of course poor Mother collapsed, and Emily telephoned for me--the kid always rises to an emergency, I will say that. So I rushed home, and got the whole story out of Ada in five minutes. At first she cried a good deal, and pretended it was an orphans' home; orphans' home--ha! Finally I scared her into admitting that it was a place just for girls of her sort--"
"Fancy!" said Mrs. Thayer, fanning. Julia had grown a little pale.
"What did you do, Miss Saunders?" said she.
"Do? I sent her packing, of course!" said that lady, smiling as she bowed to an acquaintance across the room. "I told her to go straight back to Mrs. Orvis, and say I sent her. However, she didn't, for I telephoned Leila at once--Lucy Bacon is trying to bow to you, Mrs. Studdiford--over there, with your husband!"
"I wonder where she did go?" pursued Julia.
"I really have no idea!" Miss Saunders said.
"You may be sure she knew just where to go, a creature like that!" old Mrs. Thayer said wisely. "How de do, Peter, Auntie here?" she called to a smiling man who went by.
"Oh, she wouldn't go utterly bad," Julia protested; "you can't tell, she may have been decent for years. It may have been years ago--"
"Still, me dear," old Mrs. Thayer said comfortably, "one doesn't like the idea--one can't overlook that, ye know."
"Of course, it's too bad," Miss Saunders added briskly, "and it's a great pity, and things ought to be different from what they are, and all that; but at the same time you couldn't have a girl like that in the house, now could you?"
"Oh, yes, I could!" said Julia, scarlet cheeked, "I was just thinking how glad I would be to give her a trial!"
She stopped because Jim, very handsome in evening dress and with his pretty partner beside him, had come up to them.
"Tired, dear?" Jim said, smiling approval of the little figure in white lace, and the earnest eyes under loosened bright hair.
"Just about time you came up, Jim!" Ella Saunders said cheerfully, "here's your wife championing the cause of unfortunate girls--she wouldn't care what they'd done, she'd take them right into her home!"
"And very sweet and nice of her," Mrs. Thayer observed, with a consolatory pat on Julia's arm, "only it isn't quite practical, me dear, is it, Jim?"
"Julia'd like to take in every cat and dog and beggar and newsboy she sees," said Jim, with his bright smile. But Julia knew he was not pleased. "Do you want to come speak to Mother and the girls, dear, before I take you home?" he added, offering his arm. Julia stood up and said her good-nights, and crossed the room, a slender and most captivating little figure, at his side. It was not until she was bundled into furs and in the motor car that she could say, with an appealing hand on his arm:
"Don't blame me, Jimmy. I didn't start that topic. Miss Saunders happened to tell of a poor girl who--"
"I don't care to discuss it," Jim said, removing her hand by the faintest gesture of withdrawing.
Julia sighed and was silent. The limousine ran smoothly past one lighted corner after another; turned into Van Ness Avenue. After a while she said, a little indignation burning through her quiet tone:
"I've said I was not responsible for the conversation, Jim. And it seems to me merely childish in you to let a casual remark affect you in this way!"
"All right, then, I'm childish!" Jim said grimly, folding his arms as he leaned back in his seat.
Julia sighed again. Presently Jim burst out:
"I'm affected by a casual remark, yes, I admit it. But my God, doesn't it mean anything to you that I have my pride, that when I think of my wife I want to feel that she is more perfect in every way--in every way--than all the other women in the world?" He stopped, breathing hard, and resumed, a little less violently: "All I ask is, Julia, that you let such subjects alone. You're not called upon to defend such girls! Surely that's not too much to ask!"
Julia did not answer; she sat silent and sick. And as Jim did not speak again, except to mutter "My God!" once or twice, they reached the house in silence, and separated with a brief "Good- night." Ellie was waiting for Julia, eager to hear what Miss Jane wore, and Miss Constance wore, and how "Miss Teddy" looked.
"I am absolutely done, Ellie," said the mistress, when the filmy lace gown was back in its box, and she was comfortably settled on her pillows, "so don't come in until I ring."
"And I hope you'll get a long sleep," Ellie said approvingly, "you've got to take care of yourself now!"
Julia's little daughter was born on a June day in the lovely Ross Valley house the Studdifords had taken for the summer.
They had moved into the house in April, because Julia's hopes made a later move unwise, and, delighted to get into the sweet green country so early in the year, and to have the best of excuses for leading the quiet life she loved, she bloomed like a rose. She was in splendid health and in continual good spirits; her exultant confidence indeed lasted until the very day of the baby's birth.
The day was late, and the pretty nurse, Miss Wheaton, had been in the house for nearly two weeks before Julia herself came to her door, in the first pearl dawning to say, still laughingly, that the hour had come. A swift, well--ordered period of excitement ensued; the maids were silent, awed, efficient; Miss Wheaton authoritative, crisp, ready with technical terms; and Jim as nervous and upset as if he were absolutely ignorant of all things physiological, utterly dependent upon the skill and knowledge of the nurse, humbly obedient to her will. The telephone rang and rang. Julia, the centre of this whole thrilling drama, wandered about in her great plum-coloured silk dressing-gown, commenting cheerfully enough upon the various rapid changes that were being made in her room. She picked up the little pink blanket that had been hung upon a white-enamelled clothes-horse, by the fire, and pressed it to her cheek. But now and then she stopped walking, and put her hand out toward the back of a chair as if she needed support, and then an expression crossed her face that made Jim's soul sicken within him: an expression of fear and wonderment and childish surprise. At nine o'clock Miss Toland came in, a little pale, but very cheerful and reassuring.
"I'm afraid--my nerve--will give out, Aunt Sanna!" Julia said, beginning her restless march again, after a hot quick kiss.
"Hear her!" said the nurse, with a laugh of bright scorn. "Don't talk any nonsense like that, Mrs. Studdiford. Why, she's the coolest of us all!"
"Oh, no--I'm not--oh, no--I'm not!" Julia moaned.
"Your doctor says you're doing splendidly, and that another two hours ought to see everything well over!" Miss Toland said, trying to keep the acute distress she felt out of her tone.
"I feel so--nauseated!" Julia complained. "So--uncertain!"
"Yes, I know," the nurse said soothingly, whisking out of the room. Miss Toland followed her into the hall.
"She's in great pain, she won't have much of this?" asked the older woman anxiously.
"She's not suffering much," the nurse said brightly, after a cautious glance at Julia's closed door. "This isn't much--yet. She's a little scared, that's all!"
Hating the nurse from the depth of her heart, Miss Toland went downstairs to see the doctor. Jim was sitting with a newspaper on the porch, trying to smoke. He jumped up nervously.
"Where's Doctor Lippincott?" demanded Miss Toland. "He ran in to San Rafael. Back directly."
"Ran in to San Rafael? And you let him! Why, I don't see how he dared, Jim!"
"Oh, I guess he knows his business, Aunt Sanna!" Jim said miserably. "Do you suppose I can go up for a while?"
"Yes, go," said Miss Toland. "I think she wants you, God bless her!"
But Julia wanted nobody and nothing. Jim's presence, his concerned voice and sympathetic eyes, only vaguely added to her distress. She was frightened now, terrified at the recurring paroxysms of pain; she recoiled from the breezy matter-of-factness of the doctor and the nurse; the elaborate preparations for the crisis offended every delicate instinct of her nature. She felt that the room was hot, and complained of the fire; but a few moments later her teeth chattered with a chill, and Miss Wheaton closed the wide windows through which a June breeze was wandering.
The day dragged on. The doctor came back, talked to Jim and Miss Toland during luncheon about mushroom-raising, went upstairs to send Miss Wheaton down to her lunch, and to watch the patient a little while for himself. Jim went up, too, but was sent down to reassure Mrs. Toland, who had arrived, and with Miss Sanna was holding a vigil in the pretty cretonne-hung drawing-room. He was crossing the hall to go upstairs again, when a sound from above held him rigid and cold. A long low moan of utter weariness and anguish drifted through the pleasant silence of the house, died away, and rose again.
Slowly the sense of tragedy deepened about them. Mrs. Toland was white; Miss Toland's face was streaked with tears. The moaning was almost incessant now, but Jim in the hall could hear the nurse murmur above it, and now and then the doctor's voice, short and sharp.
"I wonder if you could come in and give her a little chloroform, Jim?" said Doctor Lippincott, a pleasant, middle-aged man in a white linen suit and cap, appearing suddenly in the door of Julia's room. "I think we can ease her along a little now, and I need Miss Wheaton."
Jim pushed his hair back with a wet hand; cleared his throat.
"Sure. D'you want me to scrub up?" he asked huskily.
"Oh, no--no, my dear boy! Everything's going splendidly." The doctor beckoned him in, and shut the door. "Now, Mrs. Studdiford," said he, "we'll be all right here in no time!"
Julia did not answer; she did not open her eyes even when Jim took her moist hot hand in one of his, and brushed back the lovely tumbled hair from her wet forehead. She was breathing deep and violently, as if she had been running. Presently she beat upon the bed with one clenched fist, and began to toss her head from side to side. Then the stifled moan began to escape from her bitten lips again, her face worked pitifully, and she began to cry.
"Now, crowd it on, Jim!" Doctor Lippincott said, nodding toward the chloroform.
"Breathe deep, breathe it in, my darling!" Jim urged, pouring the sweet, choking stuff upon the little mask he held above the tortured face.
"You aren't--helping me--at all!" Julia muttered, in a deep hoarse voice. But her shrill thin cry sank to a moan again; she stammered incoherent words.
So struggling and sobbing, now quieter under the anaesthetic, now crying aloud, the next long hour somehow passed for the helpless, suffering little animal that was Julia. A climax came, and the kindly chloroform smothered the last terrible cry.
Julia awoke to a realization that something was snapping brightly, like wood on a fire; that the cottony fumes in her head were breaking, drifting away; that commonplace cheerful voices were saying things very near her. She seemed to have fallen from infinite space to this wretchedly uncomfortable bed and this wretchedly uncomfortable position. She wanted a pillow; her head was rocking with pain, and her forehead was sticky with moisture. Yet under and over all other sensations was the heavenly relief from the familiar agonies of the day. She felt so tired that the mere thought of beginning to rest distressed her; she would not open her eyes; her lids seemed sealed. She felt faintly worried because she could not seem to intelligently grasp the subject of Honolulu.
"Honolulu? Honolulu?" This was the doctor's pleasant drawl. "No. I haven't. Mrs. Lippincott's people live in New York, so our junketings are usually in that direction."
"Ah, well, you'd like Honolulu," Miss Wheaton's voice answered. A pause. Then she said, "I put some wood on. It's not so warm to-day as it was yesterday."
Julia strove in vain to pierce the meaning of these cryptic words. Presently the doctor said, "Perfectly normal?" more as a statement than a question, and Miss Wheaton answered in a matter-of-fact voice, "Oh, absolutely."
Julia opened her eyes, looked up into the nurse's face, and with returning consciousness came self-pity.
"I couldn't do it, Miss Wheaton," she whispered pitifully, with trembling lips.
"Hello, little girlie, you're beginning to feel better, aren't you?" Miss Wheaton said. "Here she is, Doctor, as fine as silk."
Julia's languid eyes found the doctor's kindly face.
"But the baby?" she faltered, with a rush of tears.
"The baby is a very noisy young woman," said Doctor Lippincott cheerfully. "I wrapped her in her pink thingamagig, and she's right here in Jim's room, getting her first bath from her granny."
"Really?" Julia whispered. "You wouldn't--fool me?"
"Listen to her!" Miss Wheaton said. "Now, my dear, don't you be nervous. You've got a perfectly lovely little girl, and you've come through splendidly, and everything's fine. If you want to go look at that baby, Doctor," she added, "ask Doctor Studdiford to send Ellie in here to me and we'll straighten this all out. Then we can let him in here to see this young lady!"
Presently Jim came in, to kneel beside Julia's bed, and gather her little limp hands to his lips, and murmur incoherent praise of his brave girl, his darling little mother, his little old sweetheart, dearer than a thousand babies. Julia heard him dreamily, raised languid eyes, and after a little while stroked his hair. She was spent, exhausted, hammered by the agony of a few short hours into this pale ghost of herself, and he was strong and well, the red blood running confident and audacious in his veins. Their spirits could not meet to-night. But she loved his praise, loved to feel his cheek wet against her hand, and she began to be glad it was all over, that peace at last had found the big pleasant room, where firelight and the last soft brightness of the June day mingled so pleasantly on rosy wall paper and rosy curtains.
"She's a little darling," said Jim. "Mother says she's the prettiest tiny baby she ever saw. Poor Aunt Sanna and Mother had a great old cry together!"
"Ah!" said Julia hungrily. For Miss Toland had come stepping carefully in, the precious pink blanket in her arms.
"I'm to bring her to say 'Good-night' to her mother!" said Miss Toland. "How are you, dear? All forgotten now?"
The pink miracle was laid beside Julia; she shifted her sore body just a trifle to make room, and spread weak fingers to raise the blanket from the baby's face. A little crumpled rose leaf of a face, a shock of soft black hair, and two tiny hands that curved warmly against Julia's investigating finger. All the rest was delicate lawn and soft wool.
The baby wrinkled her little countenance, her tiny mouth opened, and Julia heard for the first time her daughter's rasping, despairing, bitter little cry. A passion of ecstasy flooded her heart; she dropped her soft pale cheek close to the little creased one.
"Oh, my darling, my darling!" she breathed. "Oh, you little perfect, helpless, innocent thing! Oh, Jim, she's crying, the angel! Oh, I do thank God for her!" she ended softly.
"I thank God you're so well," said Miss Toland. "Here, you can't keep her!"
"Anna, go with Aunt Sanna," Julia said weakly.
"Anna, eh?" Miss Toland said, wrapping up the pink blanket.
"Anna Toland Studdiford," Jim answered. "Julia had that all fixed up weeks ago!"
"Well--now--you children!" Miss Toland said, looking from one to the other, with her half-vexed and half-approving laugh. "What do you want to name her that for?"
"I know what for," Julia smiled, as she watched the pink blanket out of sight.
A little later Mrs. Toland crept in, just for a kiss, and a whimpered, "And now you must forget all the pain, dear, and just be happy!"
Then Julia was left to her own thoughts.
She watched Miss Wheaton come and go in the soft twilight. A shaded light bloomed suddenly, where it would not distress her eyes. The curtains were drawn, and Ellie came softly in with a pitcher of hot milk on a tray. Now and then the baby's piercing little "Oo-wah-wah!" came in from the next room, and when she heard it, Julia smiled and said faintly, "The darling!"
And as a ship that has been blown seaward, to meet the gales and to be battered upon rocks, might be caught at last by friendlier tides and carried safely home, so Julia felt herself carried, a helpless little wreck, too tired to care if the waves flung her far up on shore or drew her out to their mad embraces again.
"All forgotten?" Miss Toland had asked, from her fifty years of ignorance, and "Now you must forget all the pain," Mrs. Toland had said, with her motherly smile.
Queer, drifting thoughts came and went in her active brain during these quiet days of convalescence. She thought of girls she had known at The Alexander, girls who had cried, and who had been blamed and ostracised, girls who had gone to the City and County Hospital for their bitter hour, and had afterward put the babies in the Asylum! Julia's thoughts went by the baby in the next room, and at the picture of that tender helplessness, wronged and abandoned, her heart seemed to close like a closing hand.
Anna Toland Studdiford would never be abandoned, no fear of that. Never was baby more closely surrounded with love and the means of protection. But the other babies, just as dear to other women, what of them? What of mother hearts that must go through life knowing that there are little cries they will never hear, tears they may never dry, tired little bodies that will never know the restfulness of gentle arms? The terrible sum of unnecessary human suffering rose up like a black cloud all about her; she seemed to see long hospital wards, with silent forms filling them day and night, night and day, the long years through; she had glimpses of the crowded homes of the poor, the sick and helpless mothers, the crying babies. She suddenly knew sickness and helplessness to be two of the greatest factors in human life.
"What if Heaven is only this earth, clean and right at last," mused Julia, "and Hell only the realization of what we might have done, and didn't do--for each other!" And to Jim she said, smiling, "This experience has not only given me a baby, and given me my own motherhood, but it seems to have given me all the mothers and the babies in the world as well! I wish you were a baby doctor, Jim--the preservation of babies is the most important thing in the world!"
Slowly the kindly tides brought her back to life, and against her own belief that it would ever be so, she found herself walking again, essaying the stairs, taking her place at the table. Miss Wheaton went away, the capable Caroline took her place, and Julia was well.
Caroline was a silent, nice-looking, efficient woman of forty. She knew everything there was to know about babies, and had more than one book to consult when she forgot anything. She had been married, and had two handsome sturdy little girls of her own, so that little Anna's rashes and colics, her crying days and the days in which she seemed to Julia alarmingly good, presented no problems to Caroline. There was nothing Julia could tell her about sterilizing, or talcum powder, or keeping light out of the baby's eyes, or turning her over in her crib from time to time so that she shouldn't develop one-sidedly.
More than this, Anna was a good baby; she seemed to have something of her mother's silent sweetness. She ran through her limited repertory of eating, sleeping, bathing, and blinking at her friends with absolute regularity.
"I'd just like you to leave the door open so that if she should cry at night--" Julia said.
"But she never does cry at night!" Caroline smiled.
Julia persisted for some time that she wanted to bathe the baby every day, but before Anna was two months old she had to give up the idea. It became too difficult to do what nobody in the house wanted her to do, and what Caroline was only too anxious to perform in her stead. Jim liked to loiter over his breakfast, and showed a certain impatience when Julia became restive.
"What is it, dear? What's Lizzie say? Caroline wants you?"
"It's just that--it's ten o'clock, Jim, and Caroline sent down to know if I am going to give Anna her bath this morning!"
"Oh, bath--nothing! Let Caroline wait--what's the rush?"
"It's only that baby gets so cross, Jim!" Julia would plead.
"Well, let her. You know you mustn't spoil her, Julie. If there's one thing that's awful it's a house run by a spoiled kid! Do let's have our breakfast in peace!"
Julia might here gracefully concede the point, and send a message to Caroline to go on without her. Or she might make the message a promise to perform the disputed duty herself, "in just a few minutes."
She would run into the nursery breathlessly, and take the baby in her arms. Everything would be in readiness, the water twinkling in the little bathtub, soap and powder, fresh little clothes, and woolly bath apron all in order.
"But hush, Sweetest! How cross she is this morning, Caroline!"
"Yes, Mrs. Studdiford. You see she ought to be having her bottle now, it's nearly eleven! Dear little thing, she was so good and patient."
"Well, darling, Mudder'll be as quick as she can," Julia might console the baby, and under Caroline's cool eye, and with Anna screaming until she was scarlet from her little black crown to the soles of her feet, the bath would somehow proceed. Ellie might put her head in the door.
"Well--oh, the poor baby, were they 'busing Ellie's baby?" she would croon, coming in. "Don't you care, because Ellie's going to beat 'em all with sticks!"
Caroline anticipated Julia's every need on these occasions: the little heap of discarded apparel was whisked away, band and powder were promptly presented, the bath vanished, the clothes-rack with its tiny hangers was gone, and Julia had a moment in which to hug the weary, sleepy, hungry, fragrant little lump of girlhood in her arms.
"Bottle ready, Caroline?"
"Yes, Mrs. Studdiford. She goes out on the porch now, for her nap. Come to Caroline, darling, and get something goody-good."
And so Julia had no choice but to go, wandering a little disconsolately to her own room, and wishing the baby took her nap at another hour and could be played with now.
Presently outside interests began to claim her again, dressmakers and manicures, shopping and the essential letter writing filled the mornings, luncheons kept her late into the afternoons, there were calls and card playing and teas. Julia would have only a few minutes in the nursery before it was time to dress for dinner; sometimes Jim came in to feast his eyes on the beautiful, serene little Anna, in her beautiful mother's arms; more often he was late, and Julia, trailing her evening gown behind her, would fly for studs, and pull the boot-trees from Jim's shining pumps.
In September they went to Burlingame for the polo tournament, and here, on an unseasonably hot day, Jim had an ugly little touch of the sun, and for two or three days was very ill. They were terrible days to Julia. Richie came to her at once, and they took possession of the house of a friend, where Jim had chanced to be carried, and sent to San Rafael for Julia's servants; but two splendid nurses kept her out of the sickroom, and the baby was in San Rafael, so that Julia wandered about utterly at a loss to occupy heart or hands.
On the third day the fever dropped, and Julia crept in to laugh and cry over her big boy. Jim got well very quickly, and just a week from the day of the accident he and Julia went home to the enchanting Anna, and began to plan for a speedy removal to the Pacific Avenue house, so that the little episode was apparently quite forgotten by the time they were back in the city and the season opened.
But looking back, months later, Julia knew that she could date a definite change in their lives from that time. Whether his slight sunstroke had really given Jim's mind a little twist, or whether the shock left him unable to throw off oppressing thoughts with his old buoyancy, his wife did not know. But she knew that a certain sullen, unresponsive mood possessed him. He brooded, he looked upon her with a heavy eye, he sighed deeply when she drew his attention to the lovely little Anna.
Julia knew by this time that marriage was not all happiness, all irresponsible joy. She had often wondered why the women she knew did not settle themselves seriously to a study of its phases, when the cloudless days inevitably gave place to something incomprehensible and disturbing. Even lovers like Kennedy and her husband had their times of being wholly out of sympathy with each other, she knew, and she and Jim were not angels; they must only try to be patient and forbearing until the dark hour went by.
With a sense of unbearable weight at her heart she resigned herself to the hard task of endurance. Sometimes with a bitter rush would come the memory of how they had loved each other, and then Julia surrendered herself to long paroxysms of tears; it was so hard, so bewildering, to have Jim cold and quiet, to live in this painful alternation of hope and fear. But she never let Jim see her tears, and told herself bravely that life held some secret agony for every one, and that she must bear her share of the world's burden. How had it all come about, she wondered. Her thoughts went back to the honeymoon, and she had an aching memory of Central Park in its fresh green, of Jim laughing at her when she tried to be very matronly, in her kimono, over their breakfast tray. Oh, the exquisite happy days, the cloudless, wonderful time!
She left the thought of it for the winter that followed. That had been happy, too. Not like the New York months, not without its grave misgivings, not without its hours of bitter pain, yet happy on the whole. Then Honolulu, all so bright a memory until that hour on the ship--that first horrible premonition of so much misery that was to follow. The San Mateo summer had somehow widened the wordless, mysterious gap between them, and the winter! Julia shuddered as she thought of the winter. Where was her soul while her body danced and dressed and dined and slept through those hot hours? Where was any one's soul in that desperate whirl of amusement?
But she had found her soul again, on the June day of Anna's coming. And with Anna had come to her what new hopes and fears, what new potentialities and new sensibilities! She had always been silent, reserved, stoical by nature, accepting what life brought her uncomprehendingly, only instinctively and steadily fighting toward that ideal that had so long ago inspired her girlhood. Now she was awake, quivering with exquisite emotions, trembling with eagerness to adjust her life, and taste its full delicious savour. Now she wanted to laugh and to talk, to sit singing to her baby in the firelight, to run to meet her husband and fling herself into his arms for pure joy in life, and joy that she was beautiful and young and mother of the dearest baby in the world, and wife of the wisest and best of men. The past was blotted out for Julia now; her place in society was undisputed, not only as the wife of the rich young consulting surgeon, but for herself as well, and she could make as little or as much as she pleased of society's claim. From her sickness she felt as if she had learned that there is suffering and sorrow enough in the world without the need of deliberately sustaining the old and long-atoned wrongs. More than that, she had come to regard her own fine sense of right as a safer guide than any other, and by this she was absolved of the shadowy sin of her girlhood: the years, the hours she had prayed, the long interval, absolved her. Julia felt as if she had been born again.
In this mood Jim did not join her. As the weeks went by his aspect grew darker and more dark, and life in the Pacific Avenue house became a thing of long silences and rare and stilted phrases, and for the brief time daily that they were alone together, husband and wife were wretchedly unhappy, Jim watching his wife gloomily, Julia feeling that his look could chill her happiest mood. She had sometimes suspected that this state of affairs existed between other husbands and wives, and marvelled that life went smoothly on; there were dinners and dances, there were laughter and light speech. Jim might merely answer her half-timid, half-confident "Good-morning" with only a jerk of his head; he might eat his breakfast in silence, and accord to Julia's brief outline of dinner or evening engagements only a scowling monosyllable. Yet the day proceeded, there was the baby to visit, a dressmaker's appointment to keep, luncheon and the afternoon's plans to be gotten through, and then there was the evening again, and Jim and herself dressing in adjoining rooms in utter silence, silently descending to welcome their guests, or silently whirling off in the limousine.
Sometimes she fancied that when she resolutely assumed a cheerful tone, and determined to fight this unwholesome atmosphere with honest bravery, she merely succeeded in making Jim's mood uglier than ever. Often she tried a shy tenderness, but with no success.
One day when Miss Toland was lunching with her Julia made some allusion to the subject, in answer to the older woman's comment that she did not look very well.
"I'm not very well, Aunt Sanna," said Julia, pushing her plate away, and resting both slim elbows on the table. "I'm worried."
"Not about Anna?" Miss Toland asked quickly.
"No-o! Anna, God bless her, is simply six-months-old perfection!" Julia said, with a brief smile. "No--about myself and Jim."
Miss Toland gave her a shrewd glance.
"Quarrelled, eh?" she said simply.
"Oh, no!" Julia felt her eyes watering. "No. I almost wish we had. Because then I could go to him, and say 'I'm sorry!'" she stammered.
"Sorry for what?" demanded Miss Toland.
"For whatever I'd done!" elucidated Julia, with her April smile.
"Yes, but suppose he'd done it, what then?" Miss Toland asked.
"Ah, well," Julia hesitated. "Jim doesn't do things!" she said vaguely.
"Jim's in one of his awful moods, I suppose?" his adopted aunt asked, after a pause.
"Oh, in a dreadful one!" Julia confessed.
"Weeks, Aunt Sanna!"
"Weeks? For the Lord's sake, that's awful!" Miss Toland frowned and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "What gets into the boy?" she said impatiently. "You don't know what it's about, I suppose?"
Julia hesitated. "I think it's that he gets to thinking of my old life, when I was a little nobody, south of Market Street," she hazarded with as much truth as she could.
"Oh, really!" Miss Toland said, in a tone of cold satire. But her look fell with infinite tenderness and pity upon the drooping little figure opposite. "Yet there's nothing of the snob about Jim," she mused unhappily.
"Oh, no!" Julia breathed earnestly.
"There isn't, eh?" Miss Toland said. "I'm not so sure. I'm not at all sure. He isn't working too hard, is he?"
"He isn't working hard at all," Julia said. "Jim doesn't have a case, to worry over, twice a year. You see it's either City and County cases, that he just goes ahead and does, or else it's rich, rich people who have one of the older doctors, and just call Jim in to assist or consult. He was a little nervous over a demonstration before the students the other day, but at the very last second," Julia's quick smile flitted over her face, "at the very last second the assisting nurse dropped the cold bone--as they call it--that Jim was going to transplant. Doctor Chapman told him he'd bet Jim bribed the girl to do it!"
"H'm!" Miss Toland said absently. "But his father was just another such moody fellow, queer as Dick's hatband!" she added, suddenly, after a pause.
"Jim's father? I didn't know you knew him!"
"Knew him? Indeed I did! We all lived in Honolulu in those days. Charming, charming fellow, George Studdiford, but queer. He was very musical, you know; he'd look daggers at you if you happened to sneeze in the middle of one of his Beethoven sonatas. Tim's mother was very sweet, beautiful, too, but spoiled, Julia, spoiled!"
"Too much money!" Julia said, shaking her head.
"Exactly--there you have it!" Miss Toland assented triumphantly. "I've seen too much of it not to know it. There's a sort of dry rot about it; even a fine fellow like Jim can't escape. But, my dear"--her tone became reassuring--"don't let it worry you. He'll get over it. Just bide your time!"
"Well, that's just what I am doing," Julia said, with a rueful laugh. "But it's like being in a bad dream. There is sorrow that you have to bear, don't you know, Aunt Sanna, like crippled children, or somebody's death, or being poor; and then there are these other unnatural trials, that you just rebel against! I say to myself that I'll just be patient and sweet, and go on filling my time with Anna and calls and dinner parties, until Jim comes to his senses and tells me what an angel I am, but it's awfully hard to do it! Sometimes the house seems like a vault to me, in the mornings, even the sunshine"--Julia's eyes watered, but she went steadily on--"even the sunshine doesn't seem right, and I feel as if I were eating ashes and cotton! I go about looking at other houses, and thinking, 'I wonder what men and women are being wretchedly unhappy behind your plate-glass windows!' I watch other men and their wives together," pursued Julia, smiling through tears, "and when women say those casual things they are always saying, about not loving your husband after the first few months, and being disillusioned, and meaning less and less to each other, I feel as if it would break my heart!"
"Well," Miss Toland said, somewhat distressed, "of course, I'd rather walk into a bull fight than advise--"
"I know you would," Julia hastened to assure her. "That's why I've been talking," she added, "and it's been a real relief! Don't think I'm complaining, Aunt Sanna--"
"No, my dear," Miss Toland said. "I'll never think anything that isn't good of you, Julie," she went on. "If Jim Studdiford is so selfish as to--to make his wife unhappy for those very facts that made him first love her and choose her, well, I think the less of Jim, that's all! Now give me a kiss, and we'll go and pick out something for Barbara's boy!"
"Well, it may be a pretty safe general rule not to discuss your husband with your women friends," Julia said gayly. "But I feel as if this talk had taken a load off my heart! In books, of course," she went on, "the little governess can marry the young earl, and step right into noble, not to say royal, circles, with perfect calm. But in real life, she has an occasional misgiving. I never can quite forget that Jim was a ten-year-old princeling, with a pony and a tutor and little velvet suits, and brushes with his little initials on them, when I was born in an O'Farrell Street flat!"
"Well, if you remember it," said Miss Toland, in affectionate disapproval, "you're the only person who does!"
Either the confidential chat with Miss Toland had favourably affected Julia's point of view, or the state of affairs between Jim and herself actually brightened from that day. Julia noticed in his manner that night a certain awkward hint of reconciliation, and with it a flood of tenderness and generosity rose in her own heart, and she knew that, deeply as he had hurt her, she was ready to forgive him and to be friends again.
So a not unhappy week passed, and Julia, with more zest than she had shown in some months, began to plan a real family reunion for Thanksgiving, now only some ten days off. She wrote to the Doctor and Mrs. Toland, to the Carletons and Aunt Sanna, and to Richie, who had established himself in a little cottage on Mount Tamalpais, and who was somewhat philanthropically practising his profession there. She very carefully ordered special favours for the occasion, and selected two eligible and homeless young men from her list of acquaintances to fill out the table and to amuse Constance and Jane. Jim had to go to Sacramento on the Saturday before Thanksgiving for an important operation, but would be home again on Tuesday or Wednesday to take the head of his own table on the holiday.
Julia offered, when the Friday night before his departure came, to help him with packing. They had dined very quietly with friends that night, and found themselves at home again not very long after ten o'clock. But Jim, sinking into a chair beside the library fire, with an assortment of new magazines at his elbow, politely declined.
"Oh, no, thank you! Plenty of time for that in the morning. I don't go until nine."
"Let Chadwick do it, anyway, Jim. Shall I tell Ellie to send him up at eight?"
"If you will. Thank you! Good-night!"
"Good-night!" And Julia trailed her satins and laces slowly upstairs, unfastening her jewels as she went. A little sense of discouragement was fighting for possession; she fought it consciously as she had fought such waves of despondency a hundred times before. She propped herself comfortably in pillows, turned on a light, and began to read.
Ellie fussed about the room for a few minutes, and then was gone. The big house was very still. Eleven o'clock struck from the little mahogany clock on her mantel, midnight struck, and still Jim's footstep did not come up the stairs, and there was no welcome sound of occupancy in the room adjoining her own.
Suddenly terror smote Julia; she flung her book aside and sat up erect in bed. Her heart was thundering with fear; the silence of the house was like that that follows an explosion.
For a few dreadful seconds she sat motionless; then she thrust her bare feet in the slippers of warm white fox that Ellie had put out, and caught up a Japanese robe of black crepe, in which her figure was quite lost. Fastening the wide obi with trembling fingers, she slipped out into the hall, dimly lighted and very still. Then she ran quickly downstairs.
What sight of horror she expected to find in the library she did not know, but the shock of revulsion, when the opened door showed her nothing more terrible than Jim, musing in the firelight, was almost as bad as a fright could have been.
"Oh, Jim!" she panted, coming in, one hand pressed against her heart, "I thought something--I got frightened!"
Jim looked up with his old, tender, whimsical smile, the smile for which she had hungered so long, and held out a reassuring hand.
"Why, no, you poor kid!" he said. "I've been sitting right here!"
"I thought--and it was so still--and you didn't come up!" Julia said, beginning to sob. And in a moment she was in his arms, clinging to him in an ecstasy of love and relief. For a long blissful time they remained so, the soft curve of Julia's cheek against Jim's face, her heart beating quick above his own, her warm little figure, in its loose, soft robe, gathered closely to him.
"Feeling better now, old lady?"
"Oh, fine!" But Julia's face quivered with tears again at the tone.
"Well, then, what's this for?" He showed her a drop on the back of his hand.
"Be--because I love you so, Jim!"
"Well, you needn't cry over it!" said Jim gently. "I'm the one that ought to do the crying, Judy," he added, with a significant glance at her lovely flushed face and tear-bright blue eyes.
Julia leaned against him with a long, happy sigh.
"Oh, I'm so glad I came down!" she breathed contentedly.
"'Glad!'" Jim echoed soberly. "God! You don't know what it meant to me to look up and see my little Geisha coming in. I was going crazy, I think!"
"Ah, Jimmy, why do you?" she coaxed, one slender arm about his neck.
"I don't know," he said thoughtfully. "Made that way, I guess!"
For a while they were silent again, then Julia said softly:
"After all, nothing matters as long as we love each other!"
"No, no! You're right, Julie," he agreed seriously. "That's the only thing that counts. And you do love me, don't you?"
"Love you!" Julia said, with a shaky laugh.
"I get crazy notions. I nearly go mad, sometimes," Jim confessed. "I get to brooding--I know how rotten it is!" He fell silent, staring into the fire. "Happy?" he asked presently, glancing down at her as she rested quietly in his arms.
"Oh, happy!" Julia said, a break in her voice. "I wish I could die here, Jim. I wish I could go to sleep here and never wake up!"
"Like me as much as that baby, eh?" he asked, in a peculiar tone.
Julia sat up to face him, her cheeks bright under loosening films of hair, her eyes starry in the firelight.
"Jimmy, you couldn't be jealous of your own baby?"
"Oh, couldn't I? I can be jealous of anything and everything, sometimes." He fixed troubled eyes on the fire. "I've been unhappy, Julie," he confessed.
"Unhappy? I've just been sick about it," Julia said. "I can't believe that we're talking about it, and it's all over!" She sighed luxuriously. "There's no use of my doing anything when you're this way, Jim--I can't even remember that you love me," she went on after a silence. "Everything seems changed and queer. Sometimes I think you hate me, sometimes you give me such cold looks--oh, you do, Jimmy!--they just make me feel sick and queer all over, if you know what I mean! And oh," she sank back again with her head on his shoulder, "oh, if only then I could dare just come down to you here like this, and make you take me in your arms, and talk to me this way!"
"Don't!" Jim said briefly, kissing the top of her hair.
"It just seems to smoulder in my heart!" Julia said. "I can't bear it!';
"Don't!" he said again.
"Ah, but what makes you do it, Jim?" she asked, sitting erect to rest both wrists on his shoulders, and bring her blue eyes very near his own. Jim's glance did not meet hers, he looked sombrely past her at the fire. Suddenly she felt his arms tighten about her with a force that almost hurt her.
"Oh, it's this!" he said harshly, "I love you--you're mine! You're the thing I live for, the thing I'm proudest of! I can't bear to think there was a time when I didn't know you, my little innocent girl! I can't bear--my God!--to think that you cared for some one else--!"
And with swift force he got to his feet, and put her in his chair. Julia sat motionless while he took a restless brief turn about the room. He snatched a little jade god from the table, examined it closely, and put it down again, to come and stand with his back to the fire, one arm flung across the mantel, and his gloomy eyes fixed on her. Julia met the rushing, engulfing wave of her own emotion bravely.
"Jim," she said bravely, "does it mean nothing to you that there were other women in your life before you knew me?"
"Dearest," he answered seriously and quickly, "God knows that I would cut my hand off to be able to blot that all out of my boyhood. Those things mean nothing to a man, Ju, and they meant less to me than to most men. Women can't understand that, but if you knew how men regard it, you would realize that very few can bring their wives as clean a record as mine!"
He had said this much before, never anything more. Julia, looking at him now with all the tragic sorrow of her life in her magnificent eyes, felt the utter impossibility of convincing him that this accusation on her part, and bravely boyish and honest confession on his, had any logical or possible connection with the momentous conversation that they were having to-night. Her heart recoiled in sick terror from any word that would hurt or estrange him now, but she might have found that word, and might have said it, could she have hoped that it would convey her meaning to him. But Jim's standard of morals, for himself, was, like that of most men, still the college standard. It was too bad to have clouded the bright mirror, but it was inevitable, given youth and red blood. And it was admirable to regret it all now. Any fresh attempt on Julia's part to bring to his realization the parallel in their situations, would have elicited from him only fresh, youthful acknowledgments, until that second when anger and astonishment at her bold effort to reduce the two distinct codes to one would end this talk--like so many others!--with new coldnesses and silences. Julia abandoned this line of argument once and for all.
"I never cared for any one but you in my life, Jim," she said, with dry lips.
"I know," he muttered, brushing his hair back with an impatient hand. A second later he came to kneel penitently before her. "I'm sorry, sweetheart," he said pleadingly. "You're a little angel of forgiveness to me--I don't deserve it! I know how I make you suffer!"
"Jim," she said, feeling old, and tired, and cold to her heart's core, "do you think you do?"
"I know how I suffer!" he answered bitterly.
"Jim, suppose it was something you had done long ago that I couldn't forgive?"
"It isn't a question of forgiveness," he answered quickly. "Forgiveness--when you are the sweetest and best wife a man ever had! No, darling," he caught both her hands in his own, "you must never think that, it's never that! It's only my mad, crazy jealousy. I tell you I'm ashamed of it, and I am! Just be patient with me, Julia!"
Julia stared at him a few moments silently, her hands locked about his neck.
"Ah, but you worry me so when you're like this, Jim," she said presently, in the gentle, troubled tone a mother might use. "There seems to be nothing I can do. I can only worry and wait!"
"I know, I know," he said hastily. "Don't remind me of it! My father was like that, you know. My father shot at a man once because he was rude to my mother when he was drunk--shot him right through the shoulder! It raised the very deuce of a scandal down there in Honolulu! He took Mother to Europe to get away from the fuss, and paid the man the Lord knows what to quiet the thing!"
"Yes, but life isn't like that, Jim," Julia protested. "Life isn't so simple! Shooting at somebody, and buying his silence, and rushing off to Europe! Why can't you just say to yourself reasonably--"
"'Reasonably,' dearest!" he echoed cheerfully, with a kiss. "When was a jealous man ever reasonable!"
"But think how wonderfully happy we are, Jim," she persisted wistfully. "Suppose there is one part trouble, one part of your life that you don't like, why can't you be happy because ninety- nine parts of it are perfect?"
"I don't know; talking with you here, I can't understand it," he said. "But I get thinking--I get thinking, and my heart begins to hammer, and I lie awake nights, and I'd like to get up and strangle someone--"
His vehemence died into abashed silence before her grave eyes.
"I ought to be the one to stamp and rave over this," Julia said. "I ought to remind you that you knew my history when you married me; and you know life, too--you were ten years older than I, and how much more experienced! All I knew was learned at the settlement house, or from books. And the reason I don't rave and stamp, Jim," she went on, "is because I am different from you. I realize that that doesn't help matters. We must make the best of it now, we must help each other! You see I have no pride about it. I know I am better than many--than most--of these society women all about us, but I don't force you to admit that. They break every other commandment of God, yes, and that one, too, and they commit every one of the deadly sins! It seems to me sometimes as if 'gluttony, envy, and sloth' were the very foundation on which the lives of some of these people rest, and as for pride and anger and lust, why, we take them for granted! Yet, whoever thinks seriously of saying so?"
"You make me ashamed, Julie," Jim said, after a pause, during which his eyes had not moved from her face. "I can only say I'm sorry. I'm very sorry! Sometimes I think you're a good deal bigger man than I am; but I can't help it. However, I'm going to try. From to-night on I'm going to try."
"We'll both try," Julia said, and they kissed each other.