The Story of Julia Page by Kathleen Thompson Norris
Miss Toland, who had accepted Julia's invitation for Thanksgiving, arrived unexpectedly on the afternoon before the holiday, to spend the night with the Studdifords. It was a wild, wet day, settling down to heavy rain as the early darkness closed in, and the Pacific Avenue house presented a gloomy if magnificent aspect to the guest as she came in. But Ellie beamingly directed her to the nursery, and here she found enough brightness to flood the house.
Caroline, it appeared, had gone to her own family for the afternoon, and Julia, looking like a child in her short white dress and buckled slippers, was sitting in a low chair with little Anna in her arms. The room was bright with firelight and the soft light from the subdued nursery lamps, and warm russet curtains shut out the dull and dying afternoon. Dolls and blocks were scattered on the hearth rug, and Julia sat her daughter down among them, and jumped up with a radiant face to greet the newcomer.
"Aunt Sanna--you darling! And you're going to spend the night?" Julia cried out joyfully, with her first kisses. "What a dear thing for you to do! But you're wet?"
"No, I dropped everything in my room," Miss Toland said. "Things were very quiet at The Alexander--that new woman isn't going to do at all, by the way, too fussy--so I suddenly thought of coming into town!"
"Oh, I'm so glad you did!" Julia exulted. Miss Toland rested firm hands on her shoulders, and looked at her keenly.
"How goes it?"
"Oh, splendidly!" The younger woman's bright eyes shone.
"No more blues, eh?"
"Ah, well, that's a good thing!" Miss Toland sat down by the fire, and stretched sturdy shoes to the blaze. "Hello, Beautiful!" she said to the baby.
Julia dropped to the rug, and smothered the soft whiteness and fragrance of little Anna in a wild hug.
"She has her good days and her bad days," said Julia, biting ecstatic little kisses from the top of the downy little head, "and to-day she has simply been an angel! Wait--see if she'll do it! See, Bunny," Julia caught up a white woolly doll. "Oh, see poor dolly--Mother's going to put her in the fire!"
"Da!" said Anna agitatedly, and Julia tumbled her in another mad embrace.
"Isn't that darling, not six months old yet?" demanded the mother. "Here, take her, Aunt Sanna, and see if you ever got hold of anything nicer than that! Come, baby, give Aunt Sanna a little butterfly kiss!" And Julia swept the soft little face and unresponsive mouth across the older woman's face before she deposited the baby in her lap.
"She's like you, Julie," Miss Toland said, extending a ringed finger for her namesake's amusement.
"Yes, I think she is; every one says so. You see her hair's coming to be the same ashy yaller as mine. And see the fat sweet little knees, and don't miss our new slippers with wosettes on 'em!"
"She's really exquisite," Miss Toland said, kissing the tawny little crown as Julia had done, and watching the deep-lashed blue eyes that were so much absorbed by the rings. "Watching her, Ju, we'll see just what sort of a little girl you were."
"Oh, heavens, Aunt Sanna," Julia protested, with a rather sad little smile, "I was an awful little person with stringy hair, and colds in my nose, and no hankies! I never had baths, and never had regular meal hours, or regular diet, for that matter! Anna'll be very different from what I was."
"Your mother was to blame, Ju," Miss Toland said, gravely shaking her head.
"Oh, I don't know, perhaps her mother was," Julia suggested. "Yet my Grandmother Cox is a sweet little old woman," she went on, smiling, "always afraid we're hungry, and anxious to feed us, tremendously loyal to us all. I went out there to-day, to take Mama some special little things for Thanksgiving, and see if their turkey had gotten there, and so on, and my heart quite ached for Grandma--Mama's very exacting now, and the girls--my aunt, Mrs. Torney's girls--seemed so apathetic and dull. The house was very dirty, as it always is, and the halls icy, and the kitchen hot--I just wanted to pitch in and clean! Mama was cross at me for not bringing Anna, in this rain, and staying to dinner to-morrow; but Grandmother was so pleased to have the things, and she got to telling me of old times, poor thing, and how she had to work and scheme to get up a Thanksgiving dinner, and how my grandfather would worry her by promising that he'd only have one drink, and then disappearing for hours--"
"Does it ever occur to you that you are an unusual woman, Julia?" Miss Toland asked, holding her watch to the baby's ear. Julia flushed and laughed.
"Well, no, I don't believe it ever did!"
"Not so much in climbing up in the world as you have," pursued the older woman, "but in not despising the people you left behind you! That's very fine, Julie. I can't tell you how fine it seems to me!"
"There's nothing fine about it," Julia said simply. "It's just that I like that sort of people as well as I do--Jim's sort. I used to think that to work my way into a world where everything was fine and fragrant and costly would mean to be happy, but of course it doesn't, and I've come more and more to feel that I like the class where joys are real, and sorrows are real, and the goodness means more, and there's more excuse for the badness!"
"Did you ever think of writing, Julia?" Miss Toland asked. "Stories, I mean?"
"Everybody does nowadays, I suppose," Julia laughed. "Sometimes I think what good material The Alexander stuff would be, Aunt Sanna. But the truth is, Jim doesn't like the idea."
"Doesn't? Bless us all, why not?"
"Oh!" Julia dimpled demurely. "The great Mrs. Studdiford writing, like a mere ordinary person?" she asked.
"Oh, that's it? Where is Jim, by the way?"
"Sacramento. But the operation was on Sunday, so he should have been here yesterday, at latest," Julia said. "However, he'll rush in to-night or to-morrow; he knows you're all going to be here. Give her to me, Aunt Sanna, she's getting hungry, bless her little old heart! Ah, here's Ellie with something for Mother's girl!"
"And tea for you in the library," Ellie said in an aside, receiving the baby into her arms with a rapturous look.
"Tea, doesn't tea sound good!" Julia caught Miss Toland by the hand. "Come and have some tea, Aunt Sanna!" said she. "I'm starving!"
They were loitering over their teacups half an hour later when Lizzie came into the library with a special delivery letter.
"For me?" Julia smiled, reaching for it. "It's Jimmy!" she added ruefully, for Miss Toland's benefit, as she took it. "This means he can't get here!"
"Drat the lad!" his aunt said mildly. "What has he got to say?"
Julia pulled out a hairpin to open the letter, her face a little puzzled. She unfolded three pages of large paper closely written.
"Why, I don't understand this," said she. "Jimmy writes such short letters!"
And immediately fear, like cold iron, entered her heart, and she felt a chill of distaste for the letter; she did not want to read it, she wished she might fling it on the ere, and rid her hands of the horrible thing.
"It is Jim, isn't it?" Miss Toland said, with a sharp look. "Is he coming?"
"I don't know," Julia said, hardly above a whisper.
"Anything wrong?" Miss Toland asked, instantly alert.
"No, I don't suppose so!" Julia said, trying to laugh. "But--but I hate him to just send a letter when I expected him!" she added childishly.
She picked it up, and began slowly to read it. Miss Toland, watching her, saw the muscles of her face harden, and her eyes turn to steel. The blood rushed to her face, and then receded quickly. She read to the last word, and then looked up to meet the other woman's eyes.
"What is it?" Miss Toland demanded, aghast at Julia's look.
"It's Jim," said Julia. Her face was blazing again, and she seemed to be choking. "He's going to Europe," she went on, in a bewildered tone, "he's not coming back."
"What!" said Miss Toland sharply. "D'you mean to tell me he's simply walked off--"
Julia's colour was ghastly; her eyes looked sick and heavy.
"No, no, he can't mean that!" she said quickly. She crushed the pages of the letter together convulsively. "I can't---" she began, and stopped. Suddenly she rose to her feet, muttered something about coming back, and was gone.
She ran up to her room, and alone there, it seemed for a few moments as if she must suffocate. She put the letter on her desk, where its folded sheets instantly looked hideously familiar. She went into the bathroom, and found herself holding her fingers under the hot-water tap, vaguely waiting for hot water. Like a hunted creature she went through the luxurious rooms, the mortal wound in her heart widening every instant; finally she came back to her desk, and sat down, and read the letter again.
"Dear Julia," wrote Jim, "I have been thinking and thinking about this affair, and I cannot stand it. I am going away. Atkins is going to Berlin for a three months' course under Hofner and Braun, and I am going with him. I only made up my mind to-night, but I have thought of something like this a long, long time. I cannot bear it any longer. I think and think about things--that another man loved you and you loved him--and I nearly go mad. Even when people meet me and ask how you are, I am reminded of it; for weeks now I haven't thought of anything else; it just seems to rise up wherever I go.
"I think it will be better when I don't see you.
"I have been sitting here with my head in my hands, wondering if there is any way in which I can spare you the pain of reading this letter, but it's no use, it's impossible to go back and bluff about it.
"Collins spoke to me about the change in me; he said he thought it was that touch of the sun in September. I wish to God it was!
"I will take the course with Atkins, and then let you know. He wants to go to Benares for some reason or another, and perhaps I will go with him, or perhaps come home to you. But I don't think I will come back under a year.
"You hear of men all your life who do this, but I feel as if it was killing me, and you, too. I wish there was some other way.
"I have written Harry at the Crocker; my account there is to be transferred to your name. I don't know exactly what it is, but the money from the San Mateo lots went in there, and so there is plenty. For God's sake spend it, don't hesitate about getting anything you want. Why shouldn't you keep the house, until April anyway; some one would stay with you, and then you could go to San Rafael.
"I'm not going to try to tell you how I feel about all this, because you know. It all seems to me a bad dream. Every little while I try to make myself think that after a while it will all come right, but it seemed to me all dead and buried after that time on the steamer, and of course it wasn't!
"Tell people what you please, I leave all that to you.
"Chadwick will sell the car, and send you the bill of sale and the money. He knows what I want sent; he'll do all that.
"I've written and rewritten this ten times; my head is splitting. It seems strange to think it is you and me.
"God bless you always, and our little girl.
Julia finished it with a little grinding sound, like a groan, heard herself make a dramatic exclamation, an "Ah!" of agonized unbelief. She sat down, got up again to take a few irresolute steps toward her desk, and finally went to her bedside telephone, and took down the receiver.
There was a delay; Julia rapped an impatient slipper on the floor, and rattled the hook.
"Western Union, please," she said, a moment later; "I want to send a telegram."
An interval of silence followed. Julia sat staring blankly at the wall. Then she rattled the hook again.
"No matter about that number, Central; I've changed my mind," she said. She walked irresolutely into the middle of the room, stood there a moment frowning, and then turned, to go back and fling herself on her bed, staring up into the dark, the letter crackling as it dropped beside her.
After a while she began to say, "Oh, oh, oh!" quietly and quickly under her breath. The cry grew too much for her, she twisted on her face to stifle it, and after a few moments it stopped. Then she turned on her back again, and said something sharply to herself in a whisper once or twice, and after that the moaning "Oh, oh, oh!" began again.
So Miss Toland found her, when she came into the room without knocking, a little later.
"Julia," Miss Toland said sharply, sitting down on the edge of the bed and possessing herself of one of Julia's limp, cold hands, "Ellie told me you--she came to the door and heard you! My child, this won't do! You mustn't make mountains out of molehills. If Jim Studdiford has had the senseless cruelty to go off to Europe in this fashion, why, he ought to be horsewhipped, that's all! But I don't believe he'll get any farther than New York, myself; I don't believe he'll get that far!" She paused, but Julia was silent. After a moment the older woman spoke again. "What does he say in the letter?" she asked. "One would really like to know just how this delightful piece of work is explained."
"Aunt Sanna!" Julia said, in a difficult half whisper. She took Miss Toland's hand and pressed it against her heart. Her lips were shut tight, and against the white pillow there was a little negative movement of her head.
"Well, of course you don't want to talk about it," Miss Toland said soothingly. "But was there a quarrel?"
"Oh, no--no!" Julia said quickly, briefly, with another convulsive pressure of Miss Toland's hand, and another jerk of her head. "It was something--that distressed Jim--something I couldn't change," she added with difficulty.
"H'm!" said the other, and the evidence for both sides was in, as far as Miss Toland was concerned, and the case closed. She sat beside Julia in the dark for a long time, patting her hand without speaking. After a while Ellie brought a glass of hot milk, and Julia docilely drank it, and submitted to being put to bed, raising a face as sweet as a child's for Miss Toland's good-night kiss, and promising to sleep well.
The pleasant winter sunlight was streaming into the older woman's room when Julia came in the next morning, although all San Francisco echoed to the sombre constant call of the foghorn, and the air was cool enough to make Miss Toland's fire delightful. Julia had Anna with her, a delightful little armful in her tumbled nightwear, and she smiled at the picture of Miss Toland, comfortably enjoying her breakfast in bed. But it was evident that she had not slept: deep shadows lay under her blue eyes, and she was very pale. She put the baby down on the bed with a silver buttonhook and a bracelet, and sat down.
"Sleep any?" Miss Toland asked.
"Yes, I think I did!" Julia said, with an effort at brightness. She seemed nervous and restless, but showed no tendency to break down. "I've just been talking to Caroline," she went on. "I told her that Doctor Studdiford had been called away, and implied that there would be changes. Then I spoke to Foo Ting at breakfast-- Mrs. Pope is crazy to get him--so that will be all right--"
"Julia--of course I've not read Jim's letter," Miss Toland said earnestly, "but aren't you taking this too much to heart--aren't you acting rather quickly?"
Julia looked down at her laced fingers for a few moments without speaking.
"Jim isn't coming back," she said soberly.
"But what makes you say so, dear? How do you know?"
"Well, I just know it," Julia said, raising heavy-lidded eyes. They looked at each other.
"But you aren't telling me seriously, my child, that you two--the most devoted couple I ever saw--why, Julia, show a little courage, child! Jim must be brought to his senses, that's all. We must think what's wisest to do, and do it. But, my dear, there'd be no marriages left in the world if people flew off the handle--"
"I have been thinking, all night," Julia said patiently, "and this is what I thought. I want"--she glanced restlessly about the room- -"I want to get away from here! That'll take some little while."
"Go away by all means, dear, if you want to, but don't dismantle your house--don't make it impossible for the whole thing to blow over---"
"He won't come back," Julia repeated quietly.
"You don't think so?" Miss Toland said uncomfortably. "H'm!"
"No one must know, not even Doctor and Mother," pursued Julia. "No newspapers, nobody!"
"Well, in any case, that's wise!" the older woman assented. "And where will you go--to Sally?"
"No!" Julia said with a quick shudder. "Not anywhere near here! No, I should rather like to give the impression that I will be with Jim, or near Jim," she added slowly.
"Following him abroad with the baby, that's quite natural!" Miss Toland approved. "But why not stay a week or two in Sausalito, just to keep them from guessing?"
"Oh, I couldn't!" Julia said, in a quick breath.
"And where'll you go--New York?"
"Oh, no!" Julia leaned back and shut her eyes. The muscles of her throat worked. "We were so happy in New York," she said, with a sudden quivering of her lips. But a moment's struggle brought back her composure. "I thought--some little French village, or England," she hazarded.
"England," Miss Toland said promptly. "This is no time of the year to take a child to France; besides, you get better milk in England, and if Anna was sick, there's London, full of doctors who speak your own language."
"So long as it's quiet," Julia said, "and we see nobody--that's all I care about. Then if Jim should--But I couldn't wait here, with everybody asking, and inviting me places, and spying on me!"
"We'll take some sort of little place in Oxfordshire," Miss Toland said, "and then we can run up to London--"
"'We?'" Julia echoed. She gazed bewilderedly at the other woman for a moment, then put her hands over her face and burst into tears.
A month like a nightmare followed. Julia had never grown to care for the Pacific Avenue house; now it came to have an absolute horror for her. She seemed to see it through a veil of darkness; she seemed to move under the burden of an intolerable weight. Sometimes she found herself panting as if for air, as she went from silent room to silent room, and sometimes a memory unbearably poignant and dear smote her as with physical violence, and her face worked for a few moments, and she fought with tears.
There were other times, when life seemed less sad than dull. Julia grew sick of loneliness, sick of silence; she stared at her face in the mirror, when she was slowly dressing in the morning; stared at herself again at night--as if marvelling at this woman who was a wife, and a mother, and deserted in her young bloom. Deserted-- her husband had gone away from her, and she knew no way to bring him back. A weary flatness of spirit descended upon her; it seemed a part of the howling winter storms, the dark and heavy weather.
For the servants other positions were quickly found, the furniture was stored, the motor car sold. On the last day on which the last was at her disposal, Julia, with Ellie and the baby, drove about downtown, and disposed of several odds and ends of business. She left the keys of the Pacific Avenue house at the agent's office, not without an agonized memory of the day she had first called for them, more than two years ago. She went to the bank, and was instantly invited into the manager's office and given a luxurious chair.
"Well, Mrs. Studdiford," said Mr. Perry pleasantly, "what brings you out in this dreadful weather?"
"Good-byes," Julia said, flinging back her veil, and laying her muff aside. "Miss Toland and I will probably leave for New York on the seventh, and sail as soon as we can after we get there. I want to take a letter of credit, and I want to know just how I stand here."
Mr. Perry touched a button, the letter of credit was duly made out, a clerk came in with a little slip, which he handed to Mr. Perry.
"Ah, yes, yes, indeed! And where is Doctor Studdiford now? In Berlin? Lovely city. You'll like Berlin," said Mr. Perry. He glanced at the slip. "Thirty-seven thousand, two hundred and twenty dollars, Mrs. Studdiford," said he. "Transferred to your name a month ago.
"I had no idea it was so much!" Julia said, her heart turning to lead. Why had he given her so much?
Mr. Perry, bowing her out, laughed that that was a fault on the right side, and Julia left the bank, with its brightly lighted warm atmosphere tinged with the odour of ink and polished wood and rubber flooring, and its windows streaming with rain. She got into the motor car again, and took little Anna on her lap.
"Now I think we'll drop you at the hotel, Ellie," said she, "and I'll take the baby out to say good-bye to my mother."
"Oh, Mrs. Studdiford, it's raining something terrible!" protested the maid.
"Yes, I know," Julia agreed, looking a little vaguely out of the blurred window. "But you see to-morrow may be just as bad, and we've got her all dressed and out now. So you go home and pack, and I'll just fly out there and fly back. Day after to-morrow I've promised to take her to Sausalito, and the day after that we start!"
The city streets looked dark and gloomy under the steady onslaught of the rain, as the car rolled along. Julia stared sombrely through the drenched glass, now and then kissing the perfumed top of the little silk cap that covered the drowsy head on her breast. It was a long trip to Shotwell Street; for all her family's peculiarities, it was rather a sad trip to-day. She let her thoughts drift on to the coming changes in her life. She thought of New York, of the great unknown ocean, of London--London to Julia meant fog, hansom cabs, and crossings that must be swept. It was not, she felt, with a certain baffled resentment, what she wanted to do. London was full of Miss Toland's friends, and Julia was too sick in spirit to wish to meet them now. To be alone--to be alone--to be alone--some gasping inner spirit prayed continually. They would go to Oxfordshire, of course. But Miss Toland would be miserable in the country, she was always miserable in the country.
They were passing Eighteenth Street, passing St. Charles's shabby little church. Julia stopped the motor. She got out and carried the baby up the stairs, and went up the echoing aisle to a front pew, where Anna could sit and stare about her. Julia, panting, dropped on her knees. The big edifice was empty, and smelled of damp plaster, rain rattled the high windows. The afternoon was so dark that the sanctuary light sent a little pool of quivering red to the floor below.
After a while a very plain young woman came out of the vestry, and walking up the steps to the main altar, carried away one of the great candlesticks. She was presently joined by a little nun; the two whispered unsmilingly together, came and went fifty times with flowers, with candles, with fresh altar linen.
Julia could not pray. Her thoughts would not settle themselves; they drifted back and forth like rippling breezes over grass. She felt that if she might kneel here an hour she could begin to pray. Now a thousand little things distracted her: the odour of the church, the crisping feet of some one entering the church far behind her, the odour of the damp glove upon which she rested her cheek.
Life troubled her; she was afraid. She had thought it lay plain and straight before her; now all her guide posts were gone, and all her pathways led into deeper and deeper uncertainty. The utter confusion into which she had been thrown made even her own identity indefinite to her; she suffered less for this bewilderment. If by the mere raising of her hand she might have brought Jim back to her, she would not have raised that hand; not now, not until some rule that would adjust their relationship was found. Her marriage seemed a dream, their love as strange and remote as their separation.
Only Anna seemed real, and as much a sorrow as a joy just now. To what heritage would the beautiful, mysterious little personality unfold? What of the swiftly coming time when she would ask questions?
Julia turned to the little white-capped, white-coated figure. Anna had chewed a bonnet string to damp limpness; now she was saying "Da!" in an alluring and provocative tone to a lady praying nearby. The lady regarded her with an unmoved eye, however, and Julia gathered her small daughter in her arms and went down to the motor car.
At her mother's door she dismissed Chadwick for an hour or two of warmth and shelter, and, sighing, went into the unaired dark hallway that smelled to-day of wet woollens and of a smoky kerosene wick, and retained as well its old faint odour of carbolic acid.