The Story of Julia Page by Kathleen Thompson Norris
It was in late September that the mail brought her a note from Jim. Julia's heart felt a second of paralyzing cramp as she put her hand on the letter; she read its dozen lines in a haze of dancing light; the letters seemed to swim together.
Jim wrote that he was at home for a few days, and was most anxious to see her, and to have a talk that would be of advantage to them both. For obvious reasons, her home was not suitable; would she suggest a time and place? He was always hers faithfully, James Studdiford.
Anna, glowing and delicious, was leaning against Julia's shoulder as Julia read and reread the little document. The mother looked down obliquely at the little rose-leaf face, the blue, blue eyes, the fresh, firm, baby mouth.
"When I am a grown-up girl," Anna said, with her sweet, mysterious smile, "I shall have letters, and I will write answers, and write the envelopes, too! And I'll write you letters, Mother, when you go 'way and leave me with Grandma!"
"Will you?" asked Julia, rubbing the child's soft cheek with her own.
"Every day!" Anna said. "Who's writing you with that cunning little owl on the paper, Mother?"
"That's the Bohemian Club owl," Julia evaded, giving Anna only one fair look at him before she closed the letter. She went to her desk, and swiftly, unhesitatingly, wrote her reply. Jim must excuse her, she could not see the advantage of their meeting, she would much prefer not to see him. Briskly rubbing her blotter over the flap of the sealed envelope, she had a vision of him, interrupting his evening of talk with old friends to scratch off the note to her, and felt that she detested him.
An unhappy week followed, in which Julia had time to feel that almost any consequences would have been easier to bear than the unassailable wall of silence and misgiving and doubt that hemmed her in. Constant nervous terrors weakened her spiritually and bodily, and she could not bear to have Anna for one moment out of her sight. Mrs. Page and Mrs. Torney saw notice in the papers of Jim's return, and suspected the cause of this new agitation in Julia, but neither dared attempt to force her confidence.
"Men are the limit!" said Mrs. Torney to her sister, one day when they were sitting together in the kitchen. "As I've said before, it's a great pity there ain't nothing else to do but marry, and nothing to marry but men! It's awful to think of the hundreds of women who spend their happiest hours going about doing the housework, and planning just what they'd do if their husbands was to be taken off suddenly! Some girls can set around until they're blue moulded, and never a feller to ask 'em, and others the boys'll fret and pleg until they're fit to be tied, with nerves! Evvy you couldn't marry off if she was Cleopatra on the Nile, and poor Julia could hang smallpox flags all over her, and every man in the place'd want her jest the same! He wants her back, you see if he doesn't!"
"I don't know that he does," said Emeline, knitting needles flashing slowly in her crippled fingers. "Maybe that's the trouble."
"What'd he come on for, then?" demanded Mrs. Torney. "Jest showing off, is he? Or is it another woman? The only difference between men reely seems to be that some wear baggy pants and own up to being sultans, and others don't!" She spread her fingers inside the stocking she was darning, and eyed it severely. "The idea of a man with a five-year-old girl sashaying round the country this way is ridiculous, to begin with," said she indignantly.
"Has Ju seen him?" asked Mrs. Page.
"No, I'm pretty sure she hasn't," Mrs. Torney answered. "She acks more like she was afraid to, than like she ackshally had. She'd be real relieved to start fighting, but just now she's like a hen that gets its chickens under its wings, and looks up and round and about, and don't know whether it's a hawk or a fox or a man with a knife that's after her!"
"I don't believe Julie hates him," said her mother. "I think she'd go back to him, if only for Anna's sake--if it seemed best for Anna."
"For that matter, she'd go keep house for the gorilla at the Chutes if it seemed best for Anna!" Mrs. Torney concluded sagely.
It was only a day or two later that the telephone rang, and Julia, answering it, as she always did now, with chill foreboding in her heart, heard Barbara's voice.
"Julie, dear, is it you? Darling, we want you right away. It's Dad, Julie--he's terribly ill!" Barbara's voice broke. "He's terribly ill!"
"What is it?" Julia asked, tense and pale.
"Oh, we don't know!" Barbara gasped. "Julie--we--and Mother's quite wonderful! Con's coming right away, Janey's here, and we've wired Ted."
"Barbara, is it as bad as that?"
"I'm afraid so!" And again tears choked Barbara. "Of course we don't know. He fell, right here in the garden. Think if he'd been on the road, Julie, or in the street. That was the first thing Mother said. Mother's too wonderful! Richie was here, they carried him in. And he wrote Con's and Ted's and your name on a piece of paper. We saw he was trying to say something, and gave him the paper, and that's what he wrote! And Aunt Sanna in New York!"
Stricken, and beginning to realize for the first time what an empty place would be left in the Sausalito group when the kindly old doctor was gone, Julia hastily dressed herself for the hurried trip. She must see Jim now; there was a sort of dramatic satisfaction in the thought that he must know the accident of their meeting at last to be none of her contriving. And she would see Richie, too; her heart fluttered at the thought. She sat on the boat, dreamily watching the gray water rush by, dreamily ready for whatever might come. The day was dull and soft; boat whistles droned all about them on the bay; from Alcatraz, shouldering through an enveloping fog, came the steady ringing of a brass gong.
Long drifts of fog had crept under the trees in the Toland garden, the rose bushes were beaded with fine mist, the eaves dripped steadily. Julia began to be shaken with nervous anticipation of the moment when she must meet Jim. Would he meet her at the door, or would they deliberately arrange--these loyal brothers and sisters--that the dreaded moment should not come until they were all about her? She gave a quick nervous glance about the big hallway when a tearful maid admitted her. But it was only Barbara who came forward, and Barbara's first word was that Jim and Richie were not there; Dad had sent both on errands. "His mind is absolutely clear," said Barbara shakenly. She herself was waiting for an important telephone call, and occasionally pressing a folded handkerchief to her eyes. The two women kissed, with sudden tears on both sides, before Julia went noiselessly upstairs. Constance and Theodora were in their mother's room, Mrs. Toland with them. The mother had been crying, and was now only trying to muster sufficient self-control to reenter the sickroom without giving the beloved patient alarm. Julia's entrance was the signal for fresh tears; but they all presently brightened a little, too, and Julia persuaded Mrs. Toland to drink a cup of hot soup, "the very first thing she's touched all day!" said all the girls fondly.
Only Janey was with the invalid when Julia went into the sickroom, a silent, white-faced Janey, who stared at Julia with sombre eyes. The doctor lay high in pillows, looking oddly boyish in his white nightgown in spite of his gray hair. A fire flickered in the old- fashioned polished iron grate; outside the window twilight and the fog were mingling. The room had some unfamiliar quality of ordered emptiness already, as if life's highway must be cleared for the coming of the great Destroyer.
Julia knelt down by the bed and laid her hand over the old man's hand. To her surprise he opened his eyes. They moved from her face to the clock on the mantel, as if he had lost count of time, and had not expected her so soon.
"How are you, Dad?" she said, with infinite tenderness.
"He's better," Janey answered. "Aren't you, darling? You look better!"
The doctor's look, with its old benevolent twinkle, went from one girl's face to the other.
"Know--too--much!" he said, with difficulty, in his eyes the innocent triumph of the child who will not be deceived. Quite unexpectedly, Julia felt her lip tremble, tears brimmed her eyes. The invalid saw them, felt one drop hot on his hand.
"No--no--no!" he said, with pitying gentleness. And, with great effort, he added, "Seen--Jimmy?"
"Not yet," stammered Julia, shaken to her very soul.
The doctor shut his eyes, his fingers still clinging to Julia's. After perhaps two full minutes of silence, he whispered:
"Be good to Jimmy, Julia! Be good to him."
Julia could not answer. Barbara found her, in her own room, half an hour later, crying bitterly. It was then quite dark. The two had a long talk, ended only when Constance came flying in. Dad seemed better, much brighter, was asking for Richie, wanted to know if Ned had come.
Constance and Barbara went back to the sickroom, and Julia went downstairs to find them. She entered the almost dark library, where Richie and Ned were sitting before the fire. There was some one with them; Julia knew in an instant who it was. Her heart began to hammer, her breath failed her. A murmur of friendly low voices ended with her entrance; the three dim forms rose in the gloom.
"Con?" asked Richie. Julia touched a wall switch, and the great lamp on the centre table bloomed into sudden light.
"No, it's Julia--they want you, Rich," she said, "and you, too, Ned. Con says he's much brighter. He asked for you both."
"Hello, dear, I didn't know you were here," Richie said affectionately, kindly eyes on her face. "But you mustn't cry, Ju!" he added gently.
"I--I saw him," Julia said, mingled emotions making speech almost impossible. "Isn't there any hope, Richie?"
"None at all," Jim said, leaving the fireplace to quietly join Julia and Richie at the centre table.
The unforgotten voice! Every fibre in Julia's body thrilled to mortal shock. She rallied her courage and endurance sternly; she must not betray herself. Anger helped her, for she knew him well enough to know that the situation for him was not devoid of a certain artistic enjoyment.
"Yes, it may come to-night, it may come to-morrow," Richie assented sorrowfully. "But it's the end, I'm afraid!"
Julia clung to his arm; never had Richie seemed so dear and good to her.
"Your mother will die of it, Rich," she said, to say something. The room seemed to her shouting with Jim's presence; she kept her eyes on Richie's face. Ned, never more than an overgrown boy, put his face in his hands and began to sob.
"Sh--h!" Jim warned them. Mrs. Toland came in.
"He's better--he wants to see you boys!" she said, tremulously happy. Her eyes went from face to face. "Why, what's the matter?" she demanded. "You don't think it's--do you, Richie? Do you, Jim?"
Richie merely flung up his head and set his lips. Jim put one arm around her.
"He's pretty ill, dear," he said gently, and Julia found his smooth tenderness infinitely less bearable than Richie's bluntness.
"Why, but what are you talking about--what do you mean--I don't know what you mean!" Mrs. Toland said bewilderedly. "Doctor Barr has gone home, Richie; he said he wouldn't come back unless we sent for him!" No one answered her, and as her pitiful look went from Julia's grave face to Richard's sorrowful one, from Ned's despairing figure by the fire to Jim's troubled look, terror seemed to seize her. Her pretty middle-aged face wrinkled; she began to cry bitterly.
Julia put her in a deep chair, knelt before her, trying rather to calm than to comfort her, and after a while so far succeeded that she could take the poor shaken old lady upstairs. She did not glance again at Jim, although he opened the door for them, and tried his best to catch her eye.
Between five and six o'clock he was summoned to the sickroom. They were all there: the girls on their knees, Richard kneeling by his father, his fingers on the failing pulse. Mrs. Toland was seated, Julia kneeling beside her, holding both her cold hands. A sound of subdued sobbing filled the air; no sound came from the dying man except when a fluttering breath raised his chest. His eyes were shut; he appeared to be sleeping.
The clock on the mantel struck six, and as if roused, Doctor Toland stirred a little, and whispered, "Janey!" Poor Janey's head went down against the white counterpane; she never dreamed that the little-girl aunt, dead fifty years ago, with apple cheeks under a slatted sun-bonnet, and more apples in her lunch bag, had come in a vision of old orchard and sun-bathed river, to put her warm little hand in her brother's again, and lead him home. And before the clock struck again, Robert Toland, with not even a twitch of his kind old face, went smiling away from earth in a dream of childhood, and Richie, with a finger on the silent pulse, and Jim, with a hand on the silent heart, had said together: "Gone!"
An hour later Jim, standing thoughtful at an upper window, looked down to see Richie bring the runabout to the front door. Down the steps came Barbara, bare headed, and Julia, in her wide black hat and flying veil. The three talked for a few moments together, the light from the open hall door falling on their faces; then Julia got into the car. She leaned out to say some last word to Barbara, her face composed and sweetly grave, then turned to Richie, and they were gone.
Jim would have found it difficult to analyze his own emotion. Something in that look toward Barbara, so brave and quiet, so bright with some inward serenity, stirred his heart. He went downstairs to meet Barbara in the hall.
"Where's Rich?" asked Jim, in the hushed voice that had supplanted all the usual noise and gayety of the house.
"He'll be right back," Barbara said apathetically. "He's driving Julie to the boat."
For some reason Jim's heart sank. He had supposed them as performing only some village errand, at the florist's, the drug store, or the post office. A certain blank fell upon his spirits; Julia had her grievance, of course, but she seemed singularly indifferent to the--well, the appearances of things!
But Julia, alone on the boat, could have laughed in the joy of escape, in the new sense of freedom on which she seemed to float. Above all her sympathy for the family she so deeply loved, and above the sorrow of her own very real personal loss, rose the intoxicating conviction that Jim's sway over heart and soul was gone; he was no longer godlike; no longer mysteriously powerful to hurt or to enchant her; he was just a handsome man nearing forty, not particularly interesting, not noticeably magnetic, not remarkable in any way.
She caught the welcoming Anna to her heart when she reached the Shotwell Street house, telling her sad news to the others over the child's little shoulder. But the kisses she gave her daughter were inspired by joy instead of sorrow, and Julia lay down to sleep that night with a new content, and slept as she had not slept for months. With a confidence amounting almost to indifference she faced Jim on the day of the old doctor's funeral, her beauty absolutely startling in its setting of demure black veil and trailing sombre garments.
Jim watched her, some curious emotion that was compounded of resentment and jealousy and astonishment darkening his face. So dignified, so poised, so strangely, hauntingly lovely she seemed, so much in demand and so quietly equal to all demands. Jim flattered his vanity for a while with the assurance that she was trying to impress as well as evade him, but could not long preserve the illusion; there was no acting there.
"Julia," he said, when they were all at home again after the funeral, "I want to see you alone for a few moments, if I may?"
Julia was in the dining-room, busy with a great sheaf of letters. She gave a quick glance at the chair which Barbara had filled only a moment ago, as if realizing for the first time that she had been left alone.
"What is it?" she asked, dryly and unencouragingly.
Jim sat down, leaned back, folded his arms, and looked at her steadily, in a manner that might have been confusing. But Julia went on serenely opening, reading, and listing her letters.
"I want to ask how you are getting on, Julie," said Jim at last, in a hurt tone. "I want to know if there is anything in the world I can do for you?"
"Nothing, thank you!" Julia said pleasantly. "Financially, I am very comfortable. You left me I don't know how many thousands in the Crocker. I've never had one second's worry on that score, even though I've never touched the capital--as you can easily find out."
"My dear girl, do you think for one second I doubt you!" Jim said uncomfortably. "You've been perfectly wonderful to do it, only you must have scrimped yourself! But it wasn't about that. Surely, Julia, you and I have things more important to say to each other," he added reproachfully.
"I don't know what's more important than money," she assured him whimsically. "Of course I didn't want to use it at all; I should have preferred to be self-supporting at any cost," she went on. "But there was Anna and Mama to consider. And more than that, there was your name, Jim; I didn't want to start every one talking of the straits to which your wife had been reduced."
"Oh, for God's sake!" Jim growled. "Don't let's talk of money." "That was all I meant to say," Julia said politely. "Is Mother lying down?" she added naturally. Jim jerked his whole body impatiently.
"I think she is!" he snapped. Julia opened a letter.
"Isn't that a pretty hand?" she asked. "English--it's Mrs. Lawrence, the Consul's wife. What pretty hands English people write!"
"You've changed very much," Jim observed, after a sulphurous silence.
"I have?" Julia asked naively. "In what way?"
"Why didn't you want to see me?"
"Oh---" Julia laid the letter down, and for the first time gave him her full attention. "I've changed my mind about that, Jim," she said frankly. "I thought at first that it was an unwise thing, but I feel differently now. Of course you know," continued Julia, with pretty childish gravity, "that for me there can be no consideration of divorce; I shall never be any other man's wife, and never be free. But if, as Bab says, you have come to feel that you want something different, and if you have drifted so far from your religion as to feel that a legal document can undo what was solemnly done in the name of God, why then I shan't oppose it. You can call it desertion or incompatibility, I don't care."
"Who said I wanted a divorce?" Jim demanded, in his ugliest tone. His face was a dull, heavy red, and veins swelled on his forehead.
"My life is full and happy," Julia pursued contentedly, paying no attention to his question. "I'm not very exacting, as you know. Mama needs me, and I have everything I want."
"You talk very easily of divorce," Jim said, in an injured tone, after a pause. "But is it fair to have it all arranged before I say a word?"
Julia's answer was only a look--a full, clear, level look that scorched him like a flame; her cheeks above the black of her gown burned scarlet; she was growing angry.
Jim played with an empty envelope for a few minutes, fitting a ringer tip to each corner and lifting it stiffly. Presently he dropped it, folded his arms, and rested them on the table.
"This is a serious matter," he said gravely. "And we must think about it. But you must forgive me for saying that it is a great shock to come home and find you talking that way, Julie. I--God knows I'm bad enough, but I don't think I deserve quite this!" added Jim gently.
A long interval of silence, for Julia a busy interval, followed.
"When am I going to see Anna?" Jim asked, ending it.
"Whenever you want to," Julia said pleasantly. "I've familiarized her with your picture; she'll be friendly at once; she always is. Some day, when you are going to be here, I'll send her over for the day. She loves Sausalito, and I really believe she'd do poor Mother good."
"And when shall I come and see you--to talk about things?" Jim asked humbly.
"My dear Jim," Julia answered briskly, "I cannot see the need of our meeting again; I think it is most unwise--just a nervous strain on both sides. What have we to discuss? I tell you that I am perfectly willing to let you have your way. It's too bad, it's a thing I detest--divorce; but the whole situation is unfortunate, and we must make the best of it!"
Jim's stunned amazement showed in a return of his sullen colour and the fixed glassy look in his eyes.
"What will people think of this, Ju? Every one will have to know it--it will make a deuce of a lot of talk!" he said, trying to scare her.
Julia shook her head, with just a suggestion of a smile.
"Much less than you think, Jim," she answered sensibly. "Society long ago suspected that something was wrong; the announcement of a divorce will only confirm it."
"We'll have the whole crowd of them buzzing about our heads," Jim said, determined to touch her serenity by one phase or another.
"Oh, no, we won't!" Julia returned placidly. "The only circumstances under which there would have been buzzing would have been if I had tried to keep my place in society. I dropped out, and they let me go without a murmur. No buzzing from San Francisco society ever reaches Shotwell Street, and as for you, you'll be in London."
"How do you know I'll be in London?" Jim growled, utterly nonplussed.
Julia gave him a bright look over a letter, but did not answer, and the man fell to worrying an envelope again. Moments passed, the autumn twilight fell, Julia began to stack her letters in neat piles.
Presently she quietly rose, and quietly left the room, without a word, without a backward glance. Jim sat on in the dusk, staring moodily ahead of him, his eyes half shut, the fingers of one big hand drumming gently on the table.
A few days later he went out to Shotwell Street to see her. Julia met him very quietly, and presented the little Anna with the solicitous interest in the child's manner that she would have shown had Jim been any casual friend. Anna, who was lovely in a pale pink cotton garment a little too small for her, looked seriously at her father, submitted to his kisses, her wondering eyes never moving from his face, and wriggled out of his arms as soon as she could.
"My God! She's beautiful, isn't she?" said Jim, under his breath.
"She looks very nice when she's clean and good," Julia agreed practically, kissing Anna herself.
"'My God's' a bad word," Anna said gravely to her father, "isn't it, Mother?"
"I wouldn't like to hear you say it," Julia answered. "Now trot out to Aunt Regina, dear, and ask her to give you your lunch. Mother'll be there immediately.
"She's exquisite," Jim said, when the child was gone. "You all over again, Ju!"
"She's smarter than I was." Julia smiled dispassionately. "I've taught her to read--simple things, of course; she writes a little, and does wonders with her numerical chart. She's very cunning, she has an unusual little mind, and occasionally says something that proves she thinks!"
A silence followed. Sunshine was streaming into the sitting-room; nasturtiums bloomed in Julia's window boxes; the net curtains fanned softly to and fro in the soft autumn air. In the city, a hundred whistles shrilled for noon.
"I hardly knew the place," Jim said, searching for something to say. "You've made it over--the whole block looks better!"
"Gardens have come into fashion," Julia explained; "the Mission is a wonderful place for gardens. And the change in my mother is more marked," she went on, with perfunctory pleasantness; "you would hardly know her. She is much thinner, of course, but so bright and contented, and so brave!"
"I am going to meet her, I hope?" Jim suggested. Julia looked troubled.
"I hardly see how," she said regretfully. "As things are I can't exactly ask you to lunch, Jim. It would be most unnatural, and they--they look to me for a certain principle," she went on. "They know what these four years have meant for me; I couldn't begin now to treat the whole thing casually and cheerfully."
"I don't expect you to," Jim said quickly. "I'm not taking this lightly. I only want to think the thing well over before any step is taken that we might regret."
Again Julia answered him with only a tolerant, bright look. She stood up and busied herself with the potted fern that stood on the centre table, breaking off dead leaves and gathering them into the palm of her hand. Jim, feeling clumsy and helpless, stood up, too. And as he watched her, a sudden agony of admiration broke out in his heart. Her head was bent a little to one side, as if the weight of the glorious braids bowed it; her thick lashes hid her eyes; her sweet, firm mouth moved a little as she broke and straightened the fern. Where the wide collar of her checked gown was turned back at her throat, a triangle of her soft skin showed, as white and pure as the white of daisy petals; her firm young breast moved regularly under the fresh crisp gingham; the folds of her skirt were short enough to show her slender ankles and square- toed sensible low shoes tied with wide bows.
"You used not to be so cold, Julie," Jim said, baffled and uncomfortable.
"I am not cold," she answered mildly. "I never was a very demonstrative--never a very emotional person, I think. Three years ago--two years ago, even--I would have gone on my knees to you, Jim, begged you to come back, for Anna's sake as well as my own. But that time has gone by. This life, I've come to see, is far better for Anna than any child in our old set leads, and for me-- well, I'm happy. I never was so happy, or busy, or necessary, in my life, as I am now."
"Do you mean that there's no chance of a reconciliation?" Jim asked huskily. Julia gave him a glance of honest surprise.
"Jim," she asked crisply, "do you mean that you came on with the hope of a reconciliation? I thought you told Barbara something very different from that!"
"I don't know what I came on for. I wish Barbara would mind her own business," said Jim, feeling himself at a disadvantage.
"My dear Jim," Julia said with motherly kindness, "I know you so well! You came on here determined to get a divorce, you want to be free, you may already have in mind some other woman! But I've hurt your feelings by making it all easy for you--by coming over to your side. You wanted a fuss, tears, protests, a convulsion among your old friends. And you find, instead, that all San Francisco takes the situation for granted, and that I do, too. I've made my own life, I have Anna, and more than enough money to live on; you have your freedom; every one's satisfied."
"That's nonsense and you know it!" Jim exclaimed angrily. "There's not one word of truth in it!" He began to pull on his gloves, a handsome figure in his irreproachable trim black sack suit with low oxfords showing a glimpse of gray hose, and an opal winking in his gray silk scarf. "There's absolutely no reason in the world why you should consider yourself as more or less than my wife," he said. "There's no object in this sort of reckless talk. We've been separated for a few years; it's no one's business but our own to know why!"
"Oh, Jim--Jim!" Julia said, shaking her head.
"Don't talk that way to me!" he said fiercely. "I tell you I'm serious! It's all nonsense--this talk of divorce! Why," he came so near, and spoke in so menacing a tone, that Julia perforce lifted her eyes to his, "this situation isn't all of my making," he said. "I've not been ungenerous to you! Can't you be generous in your turn, and talk the whole thing over reasonably?"
"I can't see the advantage of talking!" Julia answered in faint impatience.
"No, because you want it your own way," said Jim. "You expect me to give up my child completely, you refuse me even a hearing, you won't discuss it!"
"But what do you want to discuss?" protested Julia. "The whole situation is perfectly clear--we shall only quarrel!"
How well she knew the look he gave her, the hurt look of one whose sentiment is dashed by cool reason! He suddenly caught her by the shoulders.
"Look here, Julia!"
"Ah, Jim, please don't!" She twisted in a vain attempt to escape his grip.
"Please don't what?"
Jim dropped his hands at once, stepped back, with a look of one mortally hurt.
"Certainly not--I beg your pardon!" he said punctiliously. He took up his hat. "When do I see you again, Julia? Will you dine with me to-morrow? Then we can talk."
"No, I don't think so," Julia said, after reflection.
"Have you another engagement?"
"Certainly not!" There was almost a flash of amusement in her face; her glance toward the kitchen spoke volumes for the nature of her engagements.
"Why do you say no, then?" asked Jim.
"Because I prefer not to do so," Julia answered, with sudden spirit. "We look at this thing very differently, Jim," she added roundly. "To me it is a tragedy--the saddest thing that ever happened in my life; that you and I should have loved each other, and should be less than nothing to each other now! It's like a sorrow, something shameful, to hide and to forget. For years I was haunted by the horror of a divorce, Jim; I never wrote to you, I never begged you to come back, just because I was afraid of it! I used to say to myself in the first awful weeks in this house: 'Never mind--it isn't as if we were divorced; we may be separated, we may be estranged, but we are still man and wife!'" Tears came to Julia's eyes, she shook her head as if to shake them away. "I've hungered for you, Jim, until it seemed as if I must go mad!" she went on, looking far beyond him now, and speaking in a low, rapt voice as if to herself. "I've felt," she said, "as if I'd die for just one more kiss from you, die just to have you take my big coat off once more, and catch me in your arms, as you used to do when we came back from dinner or the theatre! But one can't go on suffering that way," said Julia, giving him a swift, uncertain smile, "and gradually the pain goes, and the fever dies away, and nothing is left but the cold, white scar!"
Jim had been staring at her like a man in a trance. Now he took a step toward her, lightly caught her in one big arm.
"Ah, but Julia, wouldn't the love come back?" he asked tenderly, his face close to her own. "Couldn't it all be forgotten and forgiven? You've suffered, dear, but I've suffered, too. Can't we comfort each other?"
"Please don't do that," Julia said coldly, wrenching herself free. "This is no whim with me; I'm not following a certain line of conduct because it's most effective. I've changed. I don't want to analyze and dissect and discuss it; as I say, it seems to me too sacred, too sad, to enjoy talking about!"
"You've not changed!" Jim asserted. "Women don't change that way."
"Then I'm not like other women," Julia said hotly. "Do believe me, Jim. It's all just gone out of my life. You don't seem like the man I loved, who was so sweet and generous to me. I've not forgotten that old wonderful time; I just don't connect you with it. You could kiss me a thousand times now, and it would only seem like--well, like any one else! I look at you as one might look on some old school friend, and wonder if I ever really loved you!"
She stopped, looking at him almost in appeal. Jim stood quite still, staring fixedly at her; they remained so for a long minute.
"I see," he said then, very quietly. "I'm sorry."
And without another word he turned to the hall door and was gone. Julia stood still in the hall for a few minutes, curiously numb. All this was very terrible, very far reaching in its results, very important, but she could not feel it now. She did feel very tired, exhausted in every fibre of her body, confused and weary in mind. She put her head in the kitchen door only long enough to say that she was not hungry, and went upstairs to fling herself on her bed, grateful for silence and solitude at last.
To Jim the world was turned upside down. He could hardly credit his senses. His was not a quick brain; processes of thought with him were slow and ruminative; he liked to be alone while he was thinking. When he left Julia he went down to his club, found a chair by a library window, and brooded over this unexpected and unwelcome turn of events, viewing from all angles this new blow to his pride. He did not believe her protestations of a change of heart, nothing in his life tended to make such a belief easy. But her coldness and stubbornness hurt him and upset the plans he had been allowing to form of late in his mind.
All his life he had been following, with sunny adaptability, the line of the least resistance. Thrown out of his groove by the jealousy and resentment of the dark time in his married life, Jim had realized himself as fairly cornered by Fate, and had run away from the whole situation rather than own himself beaten. Rather than admit that he must patiently accept what was so galling to his pride, he had seized upon any alternative, paid any price.
And Germany had not been at all unpleasant. There was novelty in every phase of his home and public life; there was his work; and, for at least the first year, there was the balm for his conscience that he would soon be going home to Julia. He had allowed himself the luxury of moods, was angry with her, was scornful, was forgiving. He showed new friends her beautiful pictures--told them that she was prettier than that, no picture could do justice to her colour.
Among the new friends there had been two sweet plain Englishwomen: the widowed Lady Eileen Hungerford, and her sister, the Honourable Phyllis. These had found the rich young American doctor charming, and without a definite word or look had managed to convey to him the assurance of their warmest sympathy. They could only guess at his domestic troubles, but a hundred little half allusions and significant looks lent spice to the friendship, and Jim became a great favourite in the delightful circle the Englishwomen had drawn about them.
The midsummer vacation was spent, with another doctor, in Norway, and in September Jim went for a week or two to London, where Eileen and Phyllis, delicately considerate of the possible claims of the unknown wife, nevertheless persuaded him that he would be mad to decline the offer of the big German hospital. So back to Berlin he went, and in this second winter met old Professor Sturmer, and Senta, his wife.
Senta was a Russian, the tiniest of women, wild, beautiful, nineteen. She was a most dramatic and appealing little figure, and she knew it well. She smoked and drank just as the young men of her set did, she danced like a madwoman, she sang and rode and skated with the fury of a witch. She was like a child, over- dressed, overjewelled, her black hair fantastically arranged; always talking, always unhappy, a perfect type of the young female egotist. She liked to use reckless expressions, to curl herself up on a couch, in a room dimly lighted, and scented with burning pastilles, and discuss her marriage, her age, her appearance, her effect upon other women. Senta's was an almost pathetic and very obvious desire to be considered daring, pantherine, seductive, dangerous.
Jim, fancying he understood her perfectly, played into her hand. He would not flirt with her, but he took her at her own valuation, and they saw a good deal of each other. Senta confessed to him, read him love letters, wrote him dashing, penitent little notes, and Jim scolded her in a brotherly way, laughed at her, and sometimes delighted her by forbidding her to do this or that, or by masterfully flinging some cherished note or photograph of hers into the fire. He loved to hear her scold her maid in Russian; it seemed to him very cunning when this stately gipsy of a child took her seat in her box at the opera, or flung herself into the carriage, later, all the more a madcap because of three hours of playing the lady. He exchanged smiling looks over her little dark head with her husband, when he dined at the Sturmers'; the good professor was far more observing than was usually supposed; he knew more of Jim's character, it is probable, than Jim did himself; he knew that Senta was quite safe with the young American, and he liked him. But Senta, who was quite unscrupulous, was slow to realize it. She found this brotherly petting and scolding very well for a time, but months went by, a whole year went by, and there was no change in their relationship. Senta was only precocious, she was neither clever nor well educated; she based her campaign on the trashy novels she read, and deliberately set herself to shake Jim from his calm pleasure in her society.
Then, suddenly, Jim was bored. Charm dropped from her like a rich, enveloping cloak, and left only the pitiful little nude personality, a bundle of childish egotisms and shallow pretences. Once he had been proud to escort her everywhere, now her complacent assumption that he should do so annoyed him; once he had laughed out heartily at her constant interruption of the old professor, her naive contention that she was never to be for one second ignored; now she only worried him, and made him impatient. Her invitations poured upon him, her affectedly deep voice, reproachful or alluring, haunted his telephone. She challenged him daringly, wickedly, across dinner tables, or from the centre of a tea-table group, to say "why he didn't like her any more?"
Jim went to Italy, and Senta, chaperoned by her sister-in-law, a gaunt woman of sixty, went, too, turning up at his hotels with the naughty grace of a spoiled child, sure to be welcome. She eyed him obliquely, while telling him that "people were beginning to talk." She laughed, with a delight that Jim found maddening, when they chanced to meet some friends from Berlin in a quiet side street in Rome. Jim cut his vacation short, and went back to work.
This angered Senta for the first time, and perhaps began to enlighten her. She came sulkily back to Berlin, and began to spread abroad elaborate accounts of a quarrel between Jim and herself. Jim so dreaded meeting her that he quite gave up everything but men's society, but he could not quite escape from the knowledge that the affair was discussed and criticised.
And at this most untimely moment old Professor Stunner died, leaving a somewhat smaller fortune to his little widow than she had expected, and naming his esteemed young friend, Herr Doctor Studdiford, as her guardian and his executor. This again gave Senta the prominence and picturesqueness she loved; to Jim it was a most deplorable mischance; it was with difficulty that he acquitted himself of his bare duty in the matter, his distaste for his young ward growing stronger every moment. For weeks there was no hour in which he was not made exquisitely uncomfortable by her attitude of chastened devotion; eventually the hour came in which he had to stab her pride, and stab deep. It was an ugly, humiliating, exasperating business, and when at last it was over, Jim found himself sick of Berlin, and yet sullenly unready to go home to California, as if he had failed, as if he were under even so faint a cloud.
Just then came a letter from Eileen, another from Phyllis. Wasn't he ever coming to London any more? London was waiting to welcome him. They had opened their little house in Prince's Gate, the season was beginning, it was really extraordinarily jolly. Did he know anything of the surgeon, Sir Peveril McCann? He had said such charming things of Doctor Studdiford. He had said--but no, one wasn't going to tell him anything that might, untold, make him curious enough to come!
Jim went to London, revelling in clear English speech after years of Teutonic gutturals, and rejoicing in the clean, clear-cut personalities with which he came in contact. He loved the wonderful London drawing-rooms, the well-ordered lives, the atmosphere of the smart clubs and hotels, the plays and pictures and books that were discussed and analyzed so inexhaustibly.
He found Eileen and Phyllis more charming than ever; and he very much admired their aunt, stately Lady Violet Dray, and their bright, clever, friendly cousin Ivy, who was as fresh and breezy as the winds that blew over her native heather. Ivy was slender and vivacious; her face was thin and a little freckled, and covered with a fine blond down, which merged on her forehead into the straight rise of her carrot-coloured hair. Her eyes were sharply blue, set in thick, short, tawny lashes. She was an enthusiastic sportswoman, well informed on all topics of the day, assured of her position and sure of herself, equally at home in her riding tweeds and mud-splashed derby, and the trailing satin evening gowns that left her bony little shoulders bare, and were embellished by matchless diamonds or pearls. There was no sentiment in her, her best friends were of both sexes and all ages, but she attached Jim to her train, patronized and bullied him, and they became good friends.
Mrs. Chancellor talked well, and talked a great deal, and she stimulated Jim to talk, too. Never in his life had so constant a demand been made upon his conversational powers; and every hour with her increased his admiration for Ivy and lessened his valuation of his own wisdom. She was a thorough Englishwoman, considering everything in life desirable only inasmuch as it was British. Toward America her attitude was one of generous laughter touched with impatience. She never for one moment considered seriously anything American. Mrs. Chancellor thought all of it really too funny-"rarely too fenny," as she pronounced it. Only one thing made her more angry than the defence of anything American, and that was dispraise of anything British. The history of England was sacred to her: London was the crown and flower of the world's civilization; English children, English servants, English law, were all alike perfect, and she also had her country's reverence for English slang, quoting and repeating it with fondest appreciation and laughter. Nothing pleased her more than to find Jim unfamiliar with some bit of slang that had been used in England for twenty years; her laughter was fresh and genuine as she explained it, and for days afterward she would tell her friends of his unfamiliarity with what was an accepted part of their language.
She took him to picture galleries, bewildering him with her swift decisions. Jim might come to a stand before a portrait by Sargent.
"Isn't this wonderful, Ivy Green?" It was his own name for her, and she liked it.
"That?" A sweeping glance would appraise it. "Yes, of course, it's quite too extraordinary," she would concede briskly. "An impossible creature, of course; one feels that he was laughing at her all the time--it's not his best work, rarely!" And she would drag Jim past forty interesting canvases to pounce upon some obscure, small painting in a dark corner. "There!" she would say triumphantly, "isn't that astonishing! So kyawiously frank, if you know what I mean? It's most amazing--his sense of depth, if you know what I mean? Rarely, to splash things on in that way, and to grasp it." A clawed little hand would illustrate grasping. "It's astonishing!"
Jim, staring at a picture of some sky, some beach, and a face of rock, would murmur a somewhat bewildered appreciation, looking out of the corner of his eye, at the same time, at the attractive gondolier singing to his pretty lady passengers, on the right, or the nice young peasant nursing her baby in a sunny window while her mother peeled apples, on the left.
"Of course, it's the only thing here, this year, absolutely the only one," Mrs. Chancellor would conclude. "The rest is just one huge joke. I know Artie Holloway--Sir Arthur, he is--quite well, and I told him so! He's a director."
"But I don't see how you know so much about it!" Jim would say admiringly.
"One must know about such things, my dear boy," she always answered serenely. "One isn't an oyster, after all!"
It was this dashing lady and not Barbara who first brought Jim's mind to a sense of his own injustice to Julia, or rather to a realization that the situation, as it stood, was fair to neither Julia nor himself. Not that he ever mentioned Julia to Ivy; but she knew, of course, of Julia's existence, and being a shrewd and experienced woman she drew her own conclusions. One day she expressed herself very frankly on the subject.
"You've taken the rooms above Sir Peveril's, eh?" she asked him.
"Well, yes," Jim answered, after a second's pause. "They're bully rooms!"
"Oh, rather--they're quite the nicest in town," she stated. "But, I say, my dear boy, wasn't the rent rather steep?"
"Not terrible." He mentioned it. "And I've taken 'em for five years," he added.
"For--eh?" She brought her sandy lashes together and studied him through them. "You're rarely going to stay then, you nice child?"
"Yes, Grandmother dear. Sir Peveril wants me. I've taken his hospital work; people are really extraordinarily kind to me!" Jim summarized.
"Oh, you've been vetted, there's no question of that," she agreed thoughtfully. They were at tea in her own drawing-room, which was crowded with articles handsome and hideous, Victorian lace tidies holding their own with really fine old furniture, and exquisite bits of oil or water colour sharing the walls with old steel engravings in cumbersome frames. Now Ivy leaned back in her chair, and stirred her tea, not speaking for a few minutes.
"There's just one thing," she said presently. "Before you come here to stay, put your house in order. Don't leave everything at haome in a narsty mess that'll have to be straightened aout later, if you know what I mean? Get that all straight, and have it understood, d'ye see?"
The colour came into Jim's face at so unexpected an attack, yet speech was a relief, too.
"I don't know whether I can straighten it out," he confessed, with a nervous laugh.
"It's not a divorce, eh?"
"The gell's gone home to her people?"
"Yes." Jim cleared his throat. "Yes, she has."
"And there's a kiddie?"
"Well, now." Mrs. Chancellor straightened in her chair, set her cup down on a nearby table. "I take it the gell was the injured one, eh?" said she.
Jim was a little surprised to find himself enjoying this cross- examination immensely.
"Well--no. She had no definite cause to feel injured," he said. "We quarrelled, and I came away in a hurry---"
"What, after a first quarrel?"
"No--o. It had been going on a long time."
"Is the cause of it still existing?" Mrs. Chancellor asked in a businesslike way, after a pause.
"Can't be removed, eh? It's not religion?"
"It's an old love affair of hers," Jim admitted. The lady's eyes twinkled.
"And you're jealous?" she smiled. But immediately her face grew sober. "I see--she still cares for him, or imagines she does," she said.
Jim felt it safest to let this guess stand.
"Of course, if she won't she won't," pursued Mrs. Chancellor comfortably. "But the best thing you could do would be to bring her on here!"
Jim shook his head sullenly and set his jaw.
"She won't, eh?" asked the lady, watching him thoughtfully.
"I don't want to do that," Jim persisted stubbornly.
"You don't want to?" She meditated this. "Yet she's young, and beautiful, and presentable?" she asked, nodding her own head slowly as he nodded affirmatives. "Yes, of course. Well, it's too bad. One would have liked to meet her, take her about a bit. And it would help you more than any one thing, my dear boy. Oh, don't shake your head! Indeed it would. However, you must be definite, one way or the other. You must either admit outright that you're divorced, or you must tell an acceptable story. As it is--one doesn't know what to say--whether she's impossible in some way-- just what the matter is, if you know what I mean?"
"I see," Jim said heavily.
"Go have a talk with her," commanded Mrs. Chancellor brightly. "Finish it up, one way or another. You're doing her an injustice, as it is, and you're not just to yourself. One can't shut a marriage up in a box, you know, and forget it. There's always leakage somewhere--much better make a clean breast of the whole thing! You're not the first person who's made an unfortunate early marriage, you know!"
"I loved my wife," said Jim, in vague, resentful self-defence. "I'm naturally a domestic man. I loved my little girl---"
"Certainly you did," Mrs. Chancellor interrupted crisply. "And perhaps she did, too! The details are all the same, you know. Some people make a success of the thing, some people fail. I've been married. I'm a little older than you are in years, and ages older in experience--I know all about it. In every marriage there are the elements of success, and in every one the makings of a perfectly justifiable divorce. Some women couldn't live with a saint who was a king and a Rothschild into the bargain; others marry scamps and are perfectly happy whether they're being totally ignored or being pulled around by the hair! But if you've made a failure, admit it. Don't sulk. You'll find that doing something definite about it is like cleaning the poison out of a wound; you'll feel better! There, now, you've had your scolding, and you've taken it very nicely. Ring for some hot water, and we'll talk of something else!"
On just this casual, kindly advice Jim really did go home, prepared to be very dignified with Julia; and to make the separation definite and final, if not legal, or to bring her back, however formally, as his wife, exactly as he saw fit.
And then came the meeting in the Toland library, when in one stunning flash he saw her as she was: beautiful, dignified, and charming, a woman to whom all eyes turned naturally and admiringly, grave, sweet, and wise in a world full of pretence and ignorance, selfishness and shallowness.
She spoke, and her voice went through him like a sword, a mist rose before his eyes. He tried to remember that bitter resentment upon which his pride had fed for more than four long years; he battled with a mad desire to catch her in his arms, and to cry to her and to all the world, "After all, you are still mine!"
He watched her, her beauty as fresh to him as if he had never seen it before. Had those serious eyes, turned to Richie with such sisterly concern, and so exquisitely blue in the soft lamplight, ever met his with love and laughter brightening them? Had the kindly arms that went so quickly about his mother, in her trouble, ever answered the pressure of his own? She could look at him dispassionately, entirely forgetful of herself in the presence of death, but in the very sickroom his eyes could not leave her little kneeling figure; whenever she spoke, he felt his heart contract with a spasm of pain. It seemed to him that if he could kneel before her, and feel the light pressure of her linked hands about his neck, and have her lay that soft, sweet cheek of hers against his, in heavenly token of forgiveness, he would be ready to die of joy.
How far Julia was from this mood he was soon to learn, and no phase of their courtship eight years ago had roused in him such agonies of jealousy and longing as beset him now, when Julia, quiet of pulse and level eyed, convinced him that she could very contentedly exist without him.
All these things went confusedly through Jim's mind, as he sat at his club window, staring blankly down at the dreary summer twilight in the street. The club was a temporary wooden building, roomy and comfortable enough, but facing on all four sides the devastation of the great earthquake. Here and there a small brick building stood in the ashy waste, and on the top of Nob Hill the outline of the big Fairmont Hotel rose boldly against the gloom. But, for the most part, the rising hills showed only one ruined brick foundation after another, broken flights of stone steps leading down to broken sidewalks, twisted, discoloured railings smothered in rank, dry grass. Through this wreckage cable cars moved, brightly lighted, and loaded with passengers, and to-night, in the dusk, a steady wind was blowing, raising clouds of fine, blinding dust.
Jim stared at it all heavily, his mind strangely attuned to the dreary prospect. He felt puzzled and confused; he wanted to see Julia again, to have her forgive and comfort him. When he thought of the old times, of the devotion and tenderness he had taken so much for granted, a sort of sickness seized him; he could have groaned aloud. Only one thought was intolerable: that she would not forgive him, and let him make up to her for the lost years, and show her how deeply he loved her still!
He mused upon the exactions she might make, the advantages that would appeal to her. Not jewels--she must have more jewels now than she would ever wear, safely stored away somewhere. He remembered giving her a certain chain of pearls, with a blinding vision of the white young throat they encircled, and the kiss he had set there with the gift. No, jewels were for such as Senta, not for grave, stately Julia.
Nor would position tempt her. She was too wise to long for it; the glory of a London season meant nothing to her; position was only a word. She was happier in the Shotwell Street house, clipping roses on a foggy morning; she was happier far when she scrambled over the rough trails of the mountain with Richie than ever London could make her. Position and wealth might have their value for Ivy, but Julia cared as little as a bird for either.
And now it came to him that she was infinitely more fine, more beautiful, and more clever than Senta, and that her pure and fragrant freshness, her simple directness, her candid likes and dislikes, would make Ivy seem no more than a jaded sophist, a quoter of mere words, a worshipper of empty form.
To have Julia in London! To take her about, her bright face dimpling in the shadow of a flowered hat, or framed in furs, or to see her at the tea table, a shining slipper showing under the flowing lines of her gown, the lovely child beside her, at once enhancing and rivalling the mother's beauty--Jim's heart ached with the pain and rapture of the dream.
He was roused by Richie, who came limping into the club library, and over whose tired face came a bright smile at the sight of Jim.
"Hello!" said Richie, taking an opposite chair. His expression grew solicitous at the sight of Jim's haggard face. "Headache, old boy?" he asked sympathetically.
Jim shook his head. The big room was almost dark now, and they had it quite to themselves.
"Thinking what a rotten mess I've made of everything, Rich," Jim said desperately.
Richie took out a handkerchief and wiped the palms of his hands, but did not answer.
"She'll never forgive me, I know that," Jim presently said. And as Richie was again silent, he added: "Do you think she ever will?"
"I don't know," poor Richie said hesitatingly. "She's awfully kind--Julia."
"She's an angel!" Jim agreed fervently. He sat with his head in his hands for a few moments. Then he cleared his throat and said huskily: "Look here, you know, Rich, I'm not such an utter damn fool as I seem in this whole business. I can't explain, and, looking back now, it all seems different; but I had a grievance, or thought I had---God knows it wasn't awfully pleasant for me to go away. But I had a reason."
"It wasn't anything you didn't know about before you were married, I suppose?" asked Richie, with what Jim thought unearthly prescience.
"No," Jim answered, with a startled look.
"Nor anything you'd particularly care to have the world know or suspect?" pursued Richie. "Not anything Julia could change?"
"No," Jim said again. Richard leaned back in his chair.
"Some scrap with her people, or some old friends she wanted to hang on to," he mused. Jim did not speak. "Well," said Richie, "there would be plenty of people glad to be near Julia on any terms."
"Oh, I know that," Jim said. And after a moment he burst out again: "Richie, am I all wrong? Is it all on my side?"
"Lord, don't ask me," Richie said hastily. "The older I grow the less I think I know about anything."
There was a silence. Richard clamped the arms of his chair with big bony fingers and frowned thoughtfully at the floor.
"I wish to God I did know what to advise you, Jim," he said presently. "I'd die for her--she knows that. But she's rare, Julia; it's like trying to deal with some delicate frail little lady out of Cranford, like trying to guess what Emily Bronte might like, or Eugenie de Guerin! Julia's got life sized up, she likes it--I don't know whether this conveys anything to you or not!--but she likes it as much as if it was part of a play. You don't matter to her any more; I don't; she sees things too big. She's quite extraordinary; the most extraordinary person I ever knew, I think. There's a completeness, a finish about her. She's not waiting for any self-defence from you, Jim. It won't do you any good to tell her why you did this or that. You thought this was justified, you thought that was--certainly, she isn't disputing it. You did what you did; now she's going to abide by it. You never dreamed thus and so--very well, the worse for you! You want to hark back to something that's long dead and gone; all right, only abide by your decision. And afterward, when you realize that she's a thousand times finer than the women you compare her to, and try to make her like, then don't come crying to her!"
A long silence, then Jim stood up.
"Well, I've made an utter mess of it, as I began by saying!" he said, with a grim laugh. "Going to dine here, Rich? Let's eat together. Here"--one big clever hand gave Richard just the help he needed--"let me help you, old boy!"
"I thought I'd go home to Mill Valley," Richard said. "I can't catch anything before the six-forty, but the horse is in the village, and my boy will scare me up some soup and a salad. I'd rather go. I like to wake in my own place."
"I wish you'd let me go with you, Rich," Jim said, with a gentleness new to him. "I'm so sick of everything. I can't think of anything I'd like so well."
"Sure, come along," Richard said, touched. "Everything's pretty simple, you know, but I'll telephone Bruce and have him---"
"Cut out the telephoning," Jim interrupted. "Bread and coffee'll do. And a fire, huh?"
"Sure," Richard said again, "there's always a fire."
"Great!" Jim approved. "We can smoke, and talk about---"
"About Ju," Richie supplied, with a gruff little laugh, as he paused.
"About Ju," Jim repeated, with a long sigh.
Two days later he went to see her, to beg her to be his wife again. He asked her to forget and forgive the past, to trust him once more, to give him another chance to make her happy. He spoke of the Harley Street house, of the new friends she would find, of Barbara's nearness with the boys that Julia loved so well. He spoke of Anna; for Anna's sake they must be together; their little girl must not be sacrificed. Anna should have the prettiest nursery in London, and in summer they would go down to Barbara, and the cousins should play together.
Julia listened attentively, her head a little on one side, her eyes following the movements of Anna herself, who was digging about under the rose bushes in the backyard. Julia and Jim sat on the steps that ran down from the kitchen porch. It was a soft, hazy afternoon, with filmy streaks of white crossing the pale blue sky, and sunshine, thin and golden, lying like a spell over Julia's garden.
"I was a fool," said Jim. "There--I can't say more than that, Ju. And I've paid for my folly. And, dearest, I'm so bitterly sorry! I can't explain it. I don't understand it myself--I only know that I'd give ten years off the end of my life to have the past five to live over again. Forgive me, Ju. It's all gone out of my heart now, all that old misery, and I never could hurt you again on that score. It doesn't exist, any more, for me. Say that you'll forgive me, and let me be the happiest and proudest man in the world--how happy and proud--taking my wife and baby to England!"
The hint of a frown wrinkled Julia's forehead, her eyes were sombre with her own thoughts.
"Think what it would mean to Mother, and to Bab, and to all of us," Jim pursued, as she did not speak. "They've been so worried about it--they care so much!"
"Yes, I know!" Julia said quickly, and fell silent again.
"Is it your own mother's need of you?" the man asked after a pause.
"No." Julia gave a cautious glance at the kitchen door behind her. "No--Aunt May is wonderful with her. Muriel's at home a good deal, and Geraldine very near," she said. "And more than that, this separation between you and me worries Mother terribly; she doesn't understand it. She's very different in these days, Jim, so gentle and good and brave--I never saw such a change! No, she'd love to have me go if it was the best thing to do--it's not that---"
Her voice dropped on a note of fatigue. Her eyes continued to dwell on the child in the garden.
"I've done all I can do," Jim said. "Don't punish me any more!"
Julia laughed in a worried fashion, not meeting his eyes.
"There you are," she said, faintly impatient, "assuming that I am aggrieved about it, assuming that I am sitting back, sulking, and waiting for you to humiliate yourself! My dear Jim, I'm not doing anything of the kind. I don't hold you as wholly responsible for all this--how could I? I know too well that I myself am--or was-- to blame. All these years, when people have been blaming you and pitying me, I've longed to burst out with the truth, to tell them what you were too chivalrous to tell! For your sake and Anna's I couldn't do it, of course, but you may imagine that it's made me a silent champion of yours, just the same! But our marriage was a mistake, Jim," she went on slowly and thoughtfully. "It was all very well for me to try to make myself over; I couldn't make you! I never should have tried. Theoretically, I had made a clean breast of it, and was forgiven; but actually, the law was too strong. It's hard and strange that it should be so, isn't it? I don't understand it; I never shall. For still it seems as if the punishment followed, not so much the fact, as the fact's being made known. If I had robbed some one fifteen years ago, or taken the name of the Lord in vain, I wonder if it would have been the same? As for keeping holy the seventh day, and honouring your father and mother, and not coveting your neighbour's goods, how little they seem to count! Even the most virtuous and rigid people would forgive and forget fast enough in those cases. It's all a puzzle." Julia's voice and look, which had grown dreamy, now brightened suddenly. "And so the best thing to do about it," she went on, "seems to me to make your own conscience your moral law, and feel that what you have repented truly, is truly forgiven. So much for me." She met his eyes. "But, my dear Jim, I never could take it for granted again that you felt so about it!"
"Then you do me an injustice," said Jim, "for I swear---"
"Oh, don't swear!" she interrupted. "I know you believe that now, as you did once before. But I know you better than you do yourself, Jim. Your attitude to me is always generous, but it's always conventional, too. You never would remind me of all this, I know that very well, but always, in your own heart, the reservation would be there, the regret and the pity! I know that I am a better woman and a stronger woman for all this thinking and suffering; you never will believe that. Let us suppose that we began again. Don't you know that the day would come when my opinion would clash with that of some other woman in society, and you, knowing what you know of me, would feel that I was not qualified to judge in these things as other women are? Let us suppose that I wanted to befriend a maid who had got herself into trouble, or to take some wayward girl into my house for a trial; how patient would you be with me, under the circumstances?"
"Of course, you can always think up perfectly hypothetical circumstances!" Jim said impatiently.
"Marriage is difficult enough," Julia pursued. "But marriage with a handicap is impossible! To feel that there is something you can't change, that never will change, and that stands eternally between you! No, marriage isn't for us, Jim, and we can only make the best of it, having made the original mistake!"
"Don't ever say that again--it's not true!" Jim said, with a sort of masterful anger. "Now, listen a moment. That isn't true, and you don't believe it. I've told you what I think of myself. I was blind, I was a fool. But that's past. Give me another chance. I'll make you the happiest woman in the world, Julia. I love you. I'll be so proud of you! You can have a dozen girls under your wing all the time; you can answer the Queen back, and I'll never have even a thought but what you're the finest and sweetest woman in the world!"
The preposterous picture brought a shaky smile to Julia's lips and a hint of tears to her eyes. She suddenly rose from her seat and went down to the garden.
"Our talking it over does no good, Jim," she said, as he followed her, and stood looking at her and at Anna. "It's all too fresh-- it's been too terrible for me--getting adjusted! I stand firm here, I feel the ground under my feet. I don't want to go back to feeling all wrong, all out of key, helpless to straighten matters!"
"But we were happy!" he said, a passionate regret in his voice. "Think of our day in Chicago, Ju, and the day we took a hansom cab through Central Park--and were afraid the driver wasn't sober! And do you remember the blue hat that would catch on the electric light, and the day the elevator stuck?"
"I think of it all so often, Jim," Julia answered, with a smile as sad as tears could have been, and in the tender voice she might have used in speaking of the dead. "Sometimes I fit whole days together, just thinking of those old times. 'Then what did we do after that lunch?' I think, or 'Where were we going that night that we were in such a hurry?' and then by degrees it all comes back." Julia drew a rose toward her on a tall bush, studied its leaves critically. "That was the happiest time, wasn't it, Jim?" she asked, with her April smile.
Jim felt as if a weight of inevitable sorrow were weighing him to the ground. Julia's quiet assurance, her regretful firmness, seemed to be breaking his heart. She was in white to-day, and in the thin September sunlight, among the blossoming roses, she somehow suggested the calm placidity of a nun who looks back at her days in the world with a tender, smiling pity. The child had left her play, and stood close to her mother's side, one of Julia's hands caught in both her own.
"Anna," Jim said desperately, "won't you ask Mother to come to London with Dad?"
Anna regarded him gravely. She did not understand the situation, but she answered, with a child's curious instinct for the obvious excuse:
"But Grandmother needs her!"
"I never asked you to give her up, Julie," Jim said, as if trying to remind her that he had not been so merciless as she. Julia's eyes widened with a quick alarm, her breast rose, but she answered composedly:
"That I would have fought."
"And you have always had as much money--" Jim began again, trying to rally the arguments with which he had felt sure to overwhelm her.
"I spent that as much for your sake as for mine," Julia said soberly. "She is a Studdiford. I wanted to be fair to Anna. But I could do without it now, Jim; there are a thousand things--"
"Yes, I know!" he said in quick shame.
A silence fell, there seemed nothing else to be said. A great space widened between them. Jim felt at the mercy of lonely and desolate winds; he felt as if all colour had faded out of the world, leaving it gray and cold. With the sickness of utter defeat he dropped on one knee and kissed the wondering child, and then turned to go.
"You won't--change your mind, Ju?" he asked huskily.
Julia was conscious of a strange weakening and loosening of bonds throughout her entire system. Vague chills shook her, she felt that tears were near, she had a hideous misgiving as to her power to keep from fainting.
"I will let you know, Jim," she heard her own voice answer, very low.
A moment later she and Anna were alone in the garden.
"What is it, Mother?" Anna asked curiously, a dozen times. Julia stood staring at the child blindly. One hand was about Anna's neck, the loose curls falling soft and warm upon it, the other Julia had pressed tight above her heart. She stood still as if listening.
"What is it, Mother?" asked the little girl again.
"Nothing!" Julia said then, in a sort of shallow whisper, with a caught breath.
A second later she kissed the child hastily, and went quietly out of the green gate which had so lately closed upon Jim. She went as unquestioningly as an automaton moved by some irresistible power; not only was all doubt gone from her mind, but all responsibility seemed also shed.
The street was almost deserted, but Julia saw Jim instantly, a full block away, and walking resolutely, if slowly. She drifted silently after him, not knowing why she followed, nor what she would say when they met, but conscious that she must follow and that they would meet.
Jim walked to Eighteenth Street, turned north, and Julia, reaching the corner, was in time to see him entering the shabby old church where they had been married eight years ago. And instantly a blinding vertigo, a suffocating rush of blood to her heart, made her feel weak and cold with the sudden revelation that the hour of change had come.
She climbed the dreary, well-remembered stairs slowly, and slipped into one of the last pews, in the shadow of a gallery pillar.
Jim was kneeling, far up toward the altar, his head in his hands. In all the big church, which was bleak and bare in the cold afternoon light, there was no one else. The red altar light flickered in its hanging glass cup; a dozen lighted candles, in a great frame that held sockets for five times as many, guttered and flared at the rail.
Minutes slipped by, and still the man knelt there motionless, and still the woman sat watching him, her eyes brilliant and tender, her heart flooded with a poignant happiness that carried before it all the bitterness of the years. Julia felt born again. Like a person long deaf, upon whose unsealed ears the roar of life bursts suddenly again, she shrank away from the rush of emotion that shook her. It was overpowering--dizzying--exhausting.
When Jim presently passed her she shrank into the shadow of her pillar, but his face was sadder and more grave than Julia had ever seen it, and he did not raise his eyes. She listened until his echoing footsteps died away on the stairs; then the smile on her face faded, and she sank on her knees and burst into tears.
But they were not tears of sorrow; instead, they seemed to Julia infinitely soothing and refreshing. They seemed to carry her along with the restful sweep of a river. She cried, hardly knowing that she cried, and with no effort to stop the steady current of tears.
And when she presently sat back and dried her eyes, a delicious ease and relaxation permeated her whole body. Like a convalescent, weak and trembling, she drew great breaths of air, rejoicing that the devastating fever and the burning illusions were gone, and only the quiet weeks of getting well lay before her.
She sat in the church a long time, staring dreamily before her. Odd thoughts and memories drifted through her mind now: she was again a little girl of eight, slipping into the delicatessen store in O'Farrell Street for pickles and pork sausage; now she was a bride, with Jim in New York, moving through the dappled spring sunlight of Fifth Avenue, on the top of a rocking omnibus. She thought of the settlement house: winter rain streaming down its windows, and she and Miss Toland dining on chops and apple pie, each deep in a book as she ate; and she remembered Mark, poor Mark, who had crossed her life only to bring himself bitter unhappiness, and to leave her the sorrow of an ineffaceable stain!
Only thirty, yet what a long, long road already lay behind her, how much sorrow, how much joy! What mistakes and cross purposes had been tangled into her life and Jim's, Mark's and Richie's, Barbara's and Sally's and Ted's--into all their lives!
"Perhaps that is life," mused Julia, kneeling down to say one more little prayer before she went away. "Perhaps my ideal of a clean- swept, austere little cottage, and a few books, and a few friends, and sunrises and sunsets--isn't life! It's all a tangle and a struggle, ingratitude and poverty and dispute all mixed in with love and joy and growth, and every one of us has to take his share! I have one sort of trouble to bear, and Mother another, and Jim, I suppose, a third; we can't choose them for ourselves any more than we could choose the colour of our eyes! But loving each other--loving each other, as I love Anna, makes everything easy; it's the cure for it all--it makes everything easier to bear!" And in a whisper, with a new appreciation of their meaning, she repeated the familiar words, "Love fulfils the law!"
The next evening, just as the autumn twilight was giving way to dusk, Julia opened the lower green gate of the Tolands' garden in Sausalito, and went quietly up the steep path. Roses made dim spots of colour here and there; under the trees it was almost dark, though a soft light still lingered on the surface of the bay just below. From the drawing-room windows pale lamplight fell in clear bars across the gravel, but the hall was unlighted, the door wide open.
Julia stepped softly inside, her heart beating fast. She had got no farther than this minute, in her hastily made plans; now she did not quite know what to do. She knew that Barbara and the boys had gone back to Richie in Mill Valley. Captain Fox was duck shooting in Novato, and Constance had returned to her own home. But Ted and her little son should be here, Janey, Jim, and the widowed mother.
Presently she found Mrs. Toland in the study, seated alone before a dying fire. Julia kissed the shrivelled soft old cheek, catching as she did so the faint odour of perfumed powder and fresh crepe.
"Where are the girls, darling, that you're here all alone?" she asked affectionately.
"Oh, Julie dear! Isn't it nice to see you," Mrs. Toland said, "and so fresh and rosy, like a breath of fresh air! Where are the girls? Bab's with Richie, you know, and she took her boys and Ted's Georgie with her, and Connie had to go home again. I think Ted and Janey went out for a little walk before dinner."
"And haven't you been out, dear?"
Ready tears came to poor Mrs. Toland's eyes at the tender tone. She began to beat lightly on Julia's hand with her own.
"I don't seem to want to, dearie," she said with difficulty; "the girls keep telling me to, but--I don't know! I don't seem to want to. Papa and I used to like to walk up and down in the garden---"
Speech became too difficult, and she stopped abruptly.
"I know," Julia said sorrowfully.
"It would have been thirty-five years this November," Mrs. Toland presently said. "We were engaged in August and married in November. Marriage is a wonderful thing, Julia--it's a wonderful thing! Papa was very much smarter than I am--I always knew that! But after a while people come to love each other partly for just that--the differences between them! And you look back so differently on the mistakes you have made. I've always been too easy on the girls, and Ned, too, and Papa knew it, but he never reproached me!" She wiped her eyes quietly. "You must have had a sensible mother, Julie," she added, after a moment; "you're such a wise little thing!"
"I don't believe she was very wise," Julia said, smiling, "any more than I am! I may not make the mistakes with Anna that Mama made with me, but I'll make others! It's a sort of miracle to see her now, so brave and good and contented, after all the storms I remember."
Mrs. Toland did not speak for a few moments, then she said:
"Julie, Jim's like a son of my own to me. You'll forgive a fussy old woman, who loves her children, if she talks frankly to you? Don't throw away all the future, dear. Not to-day--not to-morrow, perhaps, but some time, when you can, forgive him! He's changed; he's not what he used to be---"
Tears were in Julia's eyes now; she slipped to her knees beside Mrs. Toland's chair, and they cried a little together.
"I came to see him," whispered Julia. "Where is he?"
"He came in about fifteen minutes ago. He's packing. You know his room---"
Julia mounted the stairs slowly, noiselessly. It was quite dark now throughout the airy, fragrant big halls, but a crack of light came from under Jim's door.
She stood outside for a few long minutes, thrilling like a bride with the realization that she had the right to enter here; where Jim was, was her sanctuary against the world and its storms.
She knocked, and Jim shouted "Come in!" Julia opened the door and faced him across a room full of the disorder of packing. Jim was in his shirt sleeves, his hair rumpled and wild. She slipped inside the door, and shut it behind her, a most appealing figure in her black gown, with her uncovered bright hair loosened and softly framing her April face.
"Jim," she said, her heart choking her, "will you take Anna and me with you? I love you---"
There was time for no more. They were in each other's arms, laughing, crying, murmuring now and then an incoherent word. Julia clung to her husband like a storm-driven bird; it seemed to her that her heart would burst in its ecstasy of content; if the big arms about her had crushed breath from her body she would have died uncaring.
Jim kissed her wet cheeks, her tumbled hair, her red lips that so willingly met his own. And when at last the tears were dry, and they could speak and could look at each other, there was no need for words. Jim sat on the couch, and Julia sat on his knee, with one arm laid loosely about his neck in a fashion they had loved years ago, and what they said depended chiefly upon their eyes and the tones of their voice.
"Oh, Jim--Jim!" Julia rested her cheek against his, "I have needed you so!"
Jim tightened an arm about her.
"I adore you," he said simply, unashamed of his wet eyes. "Do you love me?" To this Julia made no answer but a long sigh of utter content.
"Do you?" repeated Jim, after an interval.
"Does this look as if I did?" Julia murmured, not moving.
Silence again, and then Jim said, with a great sigh:
"Oh, Petty, what a long, long time!"
"Thank God it's over!" said Julia softly.
"What made you do it, dear?" Jim asked presently, in the course of a long rambling talk. At that Julia did straighten up, so that her eyes might meet his.
"Just seeing you--pray about it, Jim," she said, her eyes filling again, although her lips were smiling. "I thought that, this time, we would both pray, and that--even if there are troubles, Jim-- we'd remember that hour in St. Charles's, and think how we longed for each other!"
And resting her cheek against his, Julia began to cry with joy, and Jim clung to her, his own eyes brimming, and they were very happy.