In summer the rear parlour that was Mrs. Page's bedroom was a rather dim and dreary place; such light as it had fell through one long, high window that gave only upon a narrow air shaft; it was only in mid-July that the actual sunlight—a bright and fleeting triangle—touched the worn red carpet and the curly-maple bed. In winter the window gave almost no light at all. Julia dressed by gaslight ten months out of the year, and had to sit up in her warm blankets and stare at the clock on a certain January morning in her fifteenth year, to make sure whether it said twenty minutes of eleven or five minutes of eight o'clock. It was five minutes of eight—no mistake about it—but eight o'clock was early for the Pages, mother and daughter. Julia sighed, and cautiously stretched forth an arm, a bare, shapely little arm, with bangles on the round wrist and rings on the smooth fingers, and picked a book from the floor. Cautiously settling herself on the pillows she plunged into her novel, now and then pushing back a loose strand of hair, or bringing her pretty fingernails close to her eyes for an admiring and critical scrutiny.
An hour passed—another hour. The clock in the front room struck a silvery ten. Then Julia slammed her book noisily together, and gave a sharp push to the recumbent form beside her.
"Ah—no—darling!" moaned Mrs. Page, tortured out of dreams. "Don't—Julie—"
"Aw, wake up, Mama!" the daughter urged. Whereupon the older woman rolled on her back, yawned luxuriously, and said, quite composedly:
"Hello, darling! What time is it?"
Emeline had aged in seven years; she looked hopelessly removed from youth and beauty now, but later in the day, when her hair would be taken out of its crimping kids, her sallow cheeks touched with rouge, and her veined neck covered by a high collar, a coral chain, and an ostrich-feather ruff, some traces of her former good looks might be visible. She still affected tight corsets, high heels, enormous hats. But Emeline's interest in her own appearance was secondary now to her fierce pride and faith in Julia's beauty. Drifting along the line of least resistance, asking only to be comfortable and to have a good time, Emeline had come to a bitter attitude of resentment toward George, toward the fate that had "forced" her to leave him. Now she began lazily to fasten upon Julia as the means of gratifying those hopes and ambitions that were vain for herself. Julia was beautiful, Julia would be a great success, and some day would repay her mother for the sacrifices she had made for her child.
Emeline dressed, went about, flirted, and gossiped still; she liked cocktails and cards and restaurant dinners; she was an authority on all things theatrical; her favourite pose was that of the martyred mother. "All I have left," Emeline would say, kissing her daughter effectively, before strangers. "And only God knows what it has cost me to keep my girlie with me!"
Julia would grin good-naturedly at this. She had no hallucinations about her mother. She knew her own value, knew she was pretty, and was glad with the simple and pathetic complacence of fourteen. Julia at eight had gone to dancing school, in the briefest skirts ever seen on a small girl, and the dirtiest white silk stockings. She had sung a shrill little song, and danced a little dance at a public benefit for the widows of three heroic firemen, when she was only nine. Her lovely mop had been crimped out of all natural wave; her youthful digestion menaced by candy and chewing gum; her naturally rather sober and pensive disposition completely altered, or at least eclipsed. Julia could chatter of the stage, could give a pert answer to whoever accosted her, could tell a dressmaker exactly how she wanted a gown made, at twelve. While her mother slept in the morning, before the girl learned to sleep late, too, the child would get up and slip out. Her playground was O'Farrell Street, dry and hot in summer, wrapped in soft fog four mornings a week the year round, reeking of stale beer, and echoing to the rattle of cable cars. The little Julia flitted about everywhere: watching janitors as they hosed down the sidewalks outside the saloons, or rinsed cuspidors; watching grocers set out their big signs for the day; watching little restaurants open, and first comers sit down to great cups of coffee and plates of hot cakes. Perhaps the sight of food would remind the little girl of her own empty stomach; she would straggle home just as the first sunshine was piercing the fog, and loiter upstairs, and peep into the bedroom to see what the chances of a meal might be.
Emeline usually rolled over to smile at her daughter when she heard the door open, and Julia would be sent to the delicatessen store for the component parts of a substantial meal. Julia loved the cramped, clean, odorous shop that smelled of wet wood and mixed mustard pickles and smoked fish. A little cream bottle would be filled from an immense can at her request, the shopkeeper's wife wiping it with a damp rag and a bony hand. And the pat of butter, and the rolls, and the sliced ham, and the cheese—Herr Bauer scratched their prices with a stubby pencil on an oily bit of paper, checked their number by the number of bundles, gave Julia the buttery change, and Julia hurried home for a delicious loitering breakfast with her mother. Emeline, still in her limp, lace-trimmed nightgown, with a spotted kimono hanging loosely over it, and her hair a wildly tousled mass at the top of her head, presided at a clear end of the kitchen table. She and Julia occupied only two rooms of the original apartment now; a young lawyer, with his wife and child, had the big front room, and the dining-room was occupied by two mysterious young men who came and went for years without ever betraying anything of their own lives to their neighbours. Julia only knew that they were young, quiet, hard working, and of irreproachable habits.
But she knew the people in the front room quite well. Mrs. Raymond Toomey was a neat, bright, hopeful little woman, passionately devoted to her husband and her spoiled, high-voiced little son. Raymond Toomey was a big, blustering fool of a man, handsome in a coarse sort of way, noisy, shallow, and opinionated. Whenever there were races, the Toomeys went to the races, taking the precocious "Lloydy," in his velvet Fauntleroy suit and tasselled shoes, and taking "Baby," a shivering little terrier with wet, terrified eyes. Sometimes Mrs. Toomey came out to the kitchen in the morning, to curl her ostrich feathers over the gas stove, or join Mrs. Page in a cup of coffee.
"God, girlie, that goes to the spot," she would yawn, stirring her cup, both elbows on the table. "We had a fierce day yesterday, and Ray took a little too much last night—you know how men are! He had a stable tip yesterday, and went the limit—like a fool! I play hunches—there's no such thing as a tip!"
And sometimes she would put a little printed list of entries before Julia and say:
"Pick me a winner, darling. Go on—just pick any one!"
Julia soon reached the age when she could get her own breakfast, and then, mingled with a growing appreciation of the girl's beauty, her mother felt that gratitude always paid by an indolent person to one of energy. She knew that her child was finer than she was, prettier, more clever, more refined. She herself had never had any reserves; she had always screamed or shouted or cried or run away when things crossed her, but she saw Julia daily displaying self-control and composure such as she had never known. There were subtleties in Julia: her sweet firm young mouth closed over the swift-coming words she would not say, her round, round blue eyes were wiser already than her mother's eyes.
The girl had grown very handsome. Her joyous, radiant colouring was contradicted by her serious expression, her proud, unsmiling mouth. Her eyes were dark, her colouring softly dark; she had the velvety, tawny skin that usually accompanies dark hair. Yet her hair was a pure and exquisite gold. She wore it fluffed over her ears, cut in a bang across her forehead, and "clubbed" on her neck, in a rather absurd and artificial fashion. But the effect of her grave little face and severe expression, with this opulent gold, and her red lips and round blue eyes, was very piquant. Even powder, earrings, and "clubbing" her hair did not rob Julia of the appearance of a sweet, wilful, and petulant child. Besides the powder and earrings, she indulged in cologne, in open-work silk stockings and high heels, in chains and rings and bracelets; she wore little corsets, at fourteen, and laced them tight.
Julia's mind, at this time, was a curious little whirlpool. She had the natural arrogance of her years; she felt that she had nothing to learn. She had an affectionate contempt for her mother, and gave advice more often than she accepted it from Emeline. Julia naturally loved order and cleanliness, but she never came in contact with them. Emeline sometimes did not air or make her bed for weeks at a time. She washed only such dishes as were absolutely necessary for the next meal. She never sent out a bundle to the laundry, but washed handkerchiefs and some underwear herself, at erratic intervals, drying them on windows, or the backs of various chairs. Emeline always had a pair or more of silk stockings soaking in a little bowl of cold suds in the bedroom, and occasionally carried a waist or a lace petticoat to the little French laundress on Powell Street, and drove a sharp bargain with her. Julia accepted the situation very cheerfully; she and her mother both enjoyed their lazy, aimless existence, and to Julia, at least, the future was full of hope. She could do any one of a dozen things that would lead to fame and fortune.
The particular day that opened for her with two hours of quiet reading progressed like any other day. The mother and daughter arose, got their breakfast in the kitchen, and sat long over it, sharing the papers, the hot coffee, the cream, and dividing evenly the little French loaf. Julia's nightgown was as limp as her mother's, her kimono as dirty, and her feet were thrust in fur slippers, originally white, now gray. But her fresh young colour, and the rich loops and waves of her golden hair, her firm young breasts under her thin wraps, and the brave blue of her eyes made her a very different picture from her mother, who sat opposite, a vision of disorder, feasting her eyes upon the girl.
There was a murder story, of which mother and daughter read every word, and a society wedding to discuss.
"The Chases went," said Julia, dipping her bread in her coffee, her eyes on the paper. "Isn't that the limit!"
"Why, Marian Chase was a bridesmaid, Julie!"
"Yes, I know. But I didn't think the Byron Chases would go to Maude Pennell's wedding! But of course she's marrying an Addison—that helps. 'Mrs. Byron Chase, lavender brocade and pearls,'" read Julia. "Well, Maude Pennell is getting in, all right!"
"What'd Mrs. Joe Coutts wear?" Emeline asked. Among the unknown members of the city's smartest set she had her favourites.
"'Mrs. Joseph Foulke Coutts,'" Julia read obligingly. '"Red velvet robe trimmed with fox.'"
"For heaven's sake, Julie—with that red face!"
"And Miss Victoria Coutts in pink silk—she's had that dress for a year now," Julia said. "Well, Lord!" She yawned luxuriously. "I wouldn't marry Roy Addison if he was made of money—the bum!" She pushed the paper carelessly aside. "What you going to do to-day, Ma?" she asked lazily.
"Oh, go out," Emeline answered vaguely, still reading a newspaper paragraph. "Gladys has had to pay over a quarter of a million for that feller's debts!" said she, awed.
"Well, that's what you get for marrying a duke," Julia answered scornfully. "Let's pile these, Ma, and get dressed."
They went into the bedroom, where the gas was lighted again, the bureau pushed out from the wall, that the mirror might catch the best light, and where, in unspeakable confusion, mother and daughter began to dress. Julia put on her smart little serge skirt, pushing it down over her hips with both hands. Then she fixed her hair carefully, adjusted her hat, tied on a spotted white veil, and finally slipped into a much-embroidered silk shirtwaist, which mother and daughter decided was dirty, but would "do." Rings, bangles, and chains followed, a pair of long limp gloves, a final powdering, and a ruff of pink feathers. Julia was not fifteen and looked fully seventeen, to her great delight. She gave herself a sober yet approving glance in the mirror; the corners of her firm yet babyish mouth twitched with pleasure.
She locked the doors, set an empty milk bottle out on the unspeakably dreary back stairway, and flung the soggy bedding over the foot of the bed. Then mother and daughter sauntered out into the noontime sunshine.
It was their happiest time, as free and as irresponsible as children they went forth to meet the day's adventures. Something was sure to happen, the "crowd" would have some plan; they rarely came home again before midnight. But this sunshiny start into the day Was most pleasant of all, its freshness, its potentialities, appealed to them both. It was a February day, warm and bright, yet with a delicious tingle in the air.
"Leave us go up to Min's, Julie; some of the girls are sure to be there. There's no mat. to-day."
"Well—" Julia was smiling aimlessly at the sunlight. Now she patted back a yawn. "Walk?"
"Oh, sure. It's lovely out."
It was tacitly understood that Julia was to be an actress some day, when she was older, and the boarding-house of Mrs. Minnie Tarbury, to which the Pages were idly sauntering, was inhabited almost entirely by theatrical folk. Emeline and Julia were quite at home in the shabby overcrowded house in Eddy Street, and to-day walked in at the basement door, under a flight of wooden stairs that led to the parlour floor, and surprised the household at lunch in the dark, bay-windowed front room.
Mrs. Tarbury, a large, uncorseted woman, presided. Her boarders, girls for the most part, were scattered down the long table. Luncheon was properly over, but the girls were still gossiping over their tea. Flies buzzed in the sunny window, and the rumpled tablecloth was covered with crumbs. Mrs. Tarbury kissed Mrs. Page, and Julia settled down between two affectionate chorus girls.
"You know you're getting to be the handsomest thing that ever lived, Ju!" said one of these. Julia smiled without raising her eyes from the knives and forks with which she was absently playing.
"She's got the blues to-day," said her mother. "Not a word out of her!"
"Is that right, Ju?" somebody asked solicitously.
"Just about as right as Mama ever gets it," the girl said, still with her indifferent smile. Because her mother was shallow and violent, she had learned to like a pose of silence, of absent-mindedness, and because of the small yet sufficient income afforded by the rented rooms and from alimony, Julia was removed from the necessity that drove these other girls to the hard and constant work of the stage, and could afford her favourite air of fastidious waiting. She was going to be an actress, yes, but not until some plum worthy of her beauty and youth was offered. Meanwhile she listened to the others, followed the history of the favourites of the stage eagerly, and never saw less than four shows a week. Julia, at Juliet's age, had her own ideas as to the interpretation of the Balcony Scene, and could tell why she thought the art of Miss Rehan less finished than that of Madame Modjeska. But personally she lacked ambition, in this direction at least.
However, she joined in the girls' talk with great zest; a manager was to be put in his place, and several theories were advanced as to his treatment.
"I swear to God if Max don't give me twenty lines in the next, I'll go on to New York," said a Miss Connie Girard dispassionately. "There's a party I know there rents a house that Frohman owns, and he'd give me a letter. What I want is a Broadway success."
"That time we played—you know, seven weeks running, in Portland," said a stout, aging actress, "the time my little dance made such a hit, you know—"
"Mind jer, Max never come near us this morning," interrupted a Miss Rose Ransome firmly. "Because he knew what he done, and he wasn't looking for trouble! He wrote a notice—"
"One of the Portland papers, in c'menting on the show—" the dancer resumed.
"Say, Julie, want to walk down to Kearney with me?" Miss Girard said, jumping up. "I want to get my corsets, and we might drop in and see if we can work Foster for some seats for to-night."
"I've got a date to-night," said Julia, with a glance at her mother.
"What's that?" Emeline said sharply.
"Why, Mama, I told you I was going to the Orpheum with the Rosenthals—"
"She's going with the whole bunch," Mrs. Page commented, with a shrug. "I can't stand them, but she can!"
"I think Mark Rosenthal's a darling," some girl said, "I want to tell you right now there's not anybody can play the piano as good as he can."
"That's right," Julia said, very low.
"Well, excuse me from the bunch!" Mrs. Page said lazily.
"But we've got a real pretty little blush, just the same!" Mrs. Tarbury said, smiling at Julia. The girls shouted, and Julia grew still more red. "Never mind, baby love!" said the older woman soothingly. "It's just Aunt Min's nonsense! Say, but listen, Julia!" Her tone grew suddenly intense. "I meant to ask you something—listen. Say, no fooling, Artheris wants to know if you would take a job."
"Twenty a week, and twenty towns a month," Julia said, still ruffled. "No, I would not!"
"No, this isn't anything like that, dearie," explained Mrs. Tarbury. "There's going to be a big amachure show for charity at the Grand next month, and they want a few professionals in it, to buck up the others. All the swells are going to be in it—it's going to be something elegant! Of course they'd pay something, and it'd be a lot of fun for you! Artheris wants you to do it, and it wouldn't hurt you none to have him on your side, Julia. I promised I'd talk to you."
"One performance?" Julia asked. "What play?"
"I'd do it in a minute," said the stout actress from Portland, whose dance had been so gratifying a success, "but I'm signed up."
"One night, dear," Mrs. Tarbury said. "I don't think they've decided on the play."
"I don't know," Julia hesitated. "What d'ye think, Mama?"
"I think he's got his gall along," Mrs. Page admitted. "One night!—and to learn the whole thing for that. I'll tell you what to tell him—you tell him this: you say that you can't do it for one cent less'n a hundred dollars!"
"Lay down, Towse!" said Connie Girard, and Mrs. Tarbury expressed the same incredulity as she said benevolently: "What a pipe dream, Em—she's lucky if she gets ten!"
"Ten!" squeaked Julia's mother, but Julia silenced her by saying carelessly:
"I'll tell you what, Aunt Min. If Con and I get through in time we'll go in and see Artheris to-day. I'd do it for twenty-five—"
"You would not!" said her mother.
"Well, you might get twenty-five," Mrs. Tarbury said, mollified, "if it's a long part."
"If it don't take a lot of dressing," Julia said thoughtfully, as she and Miss Girard powdered their noses at the dark mirror of the sideboard.
"Don't you be fool enough to do it for a cent under fifty," Emeline said.
Julia smiled at her vaguely, and added to her farewells a daughterly, "Your hat's all right, Mama, but your veil's sort of caught up over your ear. Fix it before you go out. We'll be back here at five—"
"Or we'll meet you at Monte's,'" said Connie.
The two girls walked briskly down Eddy Street, conscious of their own charms, and conscious of the world about them. Connie was nearly nineteen, a simple, happy little flirt, who had been in and out of love constantly for three or four years. Julia knew her very well, and admired her heartily. Connie had twice had a speaking part in the past year, and the younger girl felt her to be well on her way toward fame. Miss Girard's family of plain, respectable folk lived in Stockton, and were somewhat distressed by her choice of a vocation, but Connie was really a rather well-behaved girl,—and a safe adviser for Julia.
"Say, listen, Con," said Julia, presently, "you know Mark Rosenthal?"
"Sure," said Connie. "Look here, Ju!" She paused at a window. "Don't you think these Chinese hand bags are swell!"
"Grand. But listen, Con," said Julia, shamefacedly honest as a boy. "He's got a case on me——"
"On you?" echoed Connie. "Why, he's twenty!"
"I know it," Julia agreed.
"But, my Lord, Ju, your Mother won't stand for that!"
"Mama don't know it."
"Well, I don't think you ought to do that, Ju," Connie began gravely. But Julia, with sudden angry tears in her eyes, stopped her.
"I've not done anything!" she said crossly. And suddenly Connie saw the truth: that Julia, in spite of paint and powder, rings and "clubbed" hair, was only a little girl, after all, still unsexed, still young enough to resent being teased about boys.
"What's he do?" she asked presently.
"Well, he—he—I have supper with them sometimes"—Julia's words poured out eagerly—"and he'll kiss me, you know—"
"Kiss you! The nerve!"
"Oh, before them all, I mean—like he always has done. His mother just laughs. And then, last week, when he asked me to go to Morosco's with them, why, it was just us two—the others had gone somewhere else."
"Well, of all gall!" said Connie, absorbed.
"And I've been up there with him thousands of times," said Julia. "Maybe Hannah'd be there, or Sophy, but sometimes we'd be alone—while he was playing the piano, you know."
"Well, now you look-a-here, Julie," said Connie impressively, "you cut out that being alone business, and the kissing, too. And now how about to-night? Are you sure his whole family is going to-night?"
"Well, that's just it, I'm not," Julia confessed, flattered by Connie's interest.
"Then you don't go one step, my dear; just you fool him a bunch! You see you're like a little boy, Ju: kisses don't mean nothing to you, yet. But you'll get a crush some day yourself, and then you'll feel like a fool if you've got mixed up with the wrong one—see?"
"Sure," said Julia, hoarse and embarrassed. Yet she liked the sensation of being scolded by Connie, too, and tried shyly, as the conversation seemed inclined to veer toward Connie's own affairs, to bring it back to her own.
The little matter of the corsets being settled, they sauntered through the always diverting streets toward the office of Leopold Artheris, manager of the Grand Opera House, and a very good friend of both girls.
They found him idle, in a bright, untidy office, lined with the pictures of stage favourites, and with three windows open to the sun and air.
"You're placed, I think, Miss Girard?" said he, giving her a fat little puffy hand. He was a stout, short man of fifty, with a bald spot showing under a mop of graying curls, and a bushy moustache also streaked with gray.
"If you call it placed," said Connie, grinning. "We open Monday in Sacramento."
"Aha! But why Sacramento?"
"Oh, we've got to open somewhere, I suppose! Try it out on the dog, you know!" Connie said, with a sort of bored airiness.
"And you, my dear?" said Artheris, turning toward Julia.
"She's come to see you about that amachure job," said Connie, reaching over to grab a theatrical magazine from the desk, and running her eye carelessly over its pages. Artheris's blandly smiling face underwent an instant change. He elevated his eyebrows, pursed his lips, and nodded with sudden interest.
"Oh—to be sure—to be sure! The performance of 'The Amazons' for the Hospital—yes, well! And what do you think of it, Miss Page?" he said.
Julia stretched out her little feet before her, shrugged, and brought an indifferent eye to bear upon the manager.
"What's there in it?" she asked.
"Well, now, that you'd have to settle with them," smiled Mr. Artheris.
"Oh, rot!" said Connie cheerfully. "You manage that for her; what does she know? Go on!"
"But, my dear young lady, I have nothing to do with it!" the man protested. "They come to me and wish to hire my theatre, lights, ushers, orchestra, and so, and they ask me if I know of a young actress who will take a part—to give them all confidence, you see"—he made encouraging gestures with his fat little hands—"to—to carry the performance, as it were!"
"What part?" asked Connie shrewdly.
"The part of—of—a splendid part, that of the Sergeant," said Artheris cheerfully.
"Yes, I know that part," Connie said grimly.
"The idea is to have Miss Julie here understudy all the parts," said the manager quickly. "These amateurs are very apt to disappoint, do you see? They feel that there would be a sense of security in having a professional right there to fill in a gap."
"Why, that would mean she'd have to learn practically the whole play," said Connie. "They ought to be willing to pay a good price for that. Of course Miss Page is only seventeen," she continued, a calculating eye on Julia, whose appearance did not belie the statement.
"No objection at all—they are all very young! Come now, what do you say, Miss Page?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Julia discontentedly. "I'm not so crazy about acting," she went on childishly. "I'm not so sure I want all these swells to stand around and impose on me—" She hesitated, uncertain and vague. "And I don't believe Mama'd be so anxious," she submitted lamely.
Just then the door of Mr. Artheris's office was opened, and a man put in his head. He was a young man, tall, thin, faultlessly dressed, and possessed of an infectious smile.
"Excuse me, Mr. Artheris," beamed the intruder, "but could I have a look at the stage? Far be it from me to interrupt or any little thing like that," he continued easily, "but my Mother'd have me dragged out and shot if I came home without seeing it!"
"Come in, come in, Mr. Hazzard," said Artheris cordially; "you're just the man we want to see! Miss Girard—Miss Page—Mr. Hazzard. Mr. Hazzard is managing this very affair—manager, isn't that it?"
"God knows what I am!" said Carter Hazzard, mopping his forehead, and appreciative of Miss Page's beauty and the maturer charms of Miss Girard. "I'm bell-hop for the whole crowd. My sister plays Thomasine, her steady is Tweenwayes, and my Mother's a director in the hospital. Fix it up to suit yourselves; you'll see that I'm every one's goat."
Both the girls laughed, and Artheris said:
"I am glad you came in, for Miss Page is the young lady of whom I spoke to you. Unfortunately, it seems that she has just promised to sign a contract with the Alcazar people."
"Oh, shucks! Can't you put it off until after the fifteenth?" asked Mr. Hazzard in alarm.
"Too much money in it," Connie said, shaking her head.
"Well—well, we expected to—to pay, of course," Carter said, embarrassed at this crudeness. And Julia, blushing furiously, muttered, "Oh—it wasn't the pay!"
"In a word, Miss Page's price is twenty-five dollars a night," said Artheris. "Could your people pay it?"
"Why—why, I suppose we could," Hazzard said uncomfortably. "It's—it's for a charity, you know," he ended weakly.
"Well, Miss Page's usual price is fifty; she's already reduced it half!" Connie said briskly.
Julia was now bitterly ashamed of her manager and her friend; her face was burning.
"I'll do it, of course," she promised. "And we'll arrange the terms afterward!"
"Good work!" said Hazzard gayly. In a few moments, when they all went out to look at the stage, he dropped behind the others and began to walk beside her.
"You're sure you're old enough to be on the stage, Miss Page; no Gerry Society scandal at the last minute?" he asked banteringly. "You look about twelve!"
Julia flashed him an oblique look.
"The idea! I'm nearly seventeen!" she said, with an uncertain little laugh. His ardent eyes embarrassed her.
"Honest?" said Carter Hazzard, in a low, caressing tone. He laid his fingers on her arm. "What's your hurry?" he asked.
"We ought to keep with the others," Julia stammered, scarlet cheeked but half laughing. At the same instant his inclination to cut across her path brought her to a full stop. She backed against a heavily tasselled and upholstered old armchair that chanced to be standing in the wings, and sitting down on one of its high arms, looked straight up into his eyes. The others had gone on; they were alone in the draughty wings.
"Why ought we?" said Hazzard, still in a low voice full of significance, his eyes on her shoulder, where he straightened a ruffle that was caught under a chain of beads. "If you like me and I like you, why shouldn't we have a little talk?"
However young she might appear, the inanities of a flirtation were a familiar field to Julia. She gave him a demure and unsmiling glance from between curled lashes, and said:
"What would you like to talk about?"
By this time their faces were close together; a sort of heady lightness in the atmosphere set them both to laughing foolishly; their voices trembled on uncertain notes. An exhilarating sense of her own sex and charm thrilled Julia; she knew that he found her sweet and young and wonderful.
"I'd like to talk about you!" said Carter Hazzard. Julia found his audacity delightful; she began to feel that she could not keep up with the dazzling rush of his repartee. "You know, the minute I saw you—" he added.
"Now, don't tell me I'm pretty!" Julia begged, with another flashing look.
"No—no!" the man exclaimed, discarding mere beauty with violence. "Pretty! Lord! what does prettiness matter? Of course you're pretty, but do you know what I said to myself the minute I saw you? I said, 'I'll bet that little girl has brains!' You smile," said Mr. Hazzard, with passionate earnestness, "but I'll swear to God I did!"
"Oh, you just want me to believe that!" scoffed Julia, dimpling.
What they said, however, mattered as little as what might be said by the two occupants of a boat that was drifting swiftly toward rapids.
"Why do you think an unkind thing like that?" Carter asked reproachfully.
"Was that unkind?" Julia countered innocently. At which Mr. Hazzard observed irrelevantly, in a low voice:
"Do you know you're absolutely fascinating? Do you? You're just the kind of little girl I want to know—to be friends with—to have for a pal!"
Julia was quite wise enough to know that whatever qualifications she possessed for this pleasing position could hardly have made themselves evident to Mr. Hazzard during their very brief acquaintance, and she was not a shade more sincere than he as she answered coquettishly:
"Yes, that's what they all say! And then they—" She stopped.
"And then they—what?" breathed Carter, playing with the loose ribbons of her feather boa.
"Then they fall in love with me!" pouted the girl, raising round eyes.
Carter was intoxicated at this confession, and laughed out loud.
"But you're too young to play at falling in love!" he warned her. "How old are you—seventeen? And you haven't told me your name yet?"
"You know my name is Miss Page," smiled Julia.
"And do you think I'm going to call you that?" Carter reproached her.
"It might be Jane," she suggested.
"Yes, but it isn't, you little devil!" Suddenly the man caught both her wrists, and Julia got on her feet, and instinctively flung back her head. "You're going to kiss me for that!" he said, half laughing, half vexed.
"Oh, no, I'm not!" A sudden twist of her body failed to free her, and the plume on her hat brushed his cheek.
"Oh, yes, you are!" He caught both wrists in one of his strong hands, and put his arm about her shoulders like a vise, turning her face toward him at the same time. Julia, furious with the nervous fear that this scuffling would be overheard, and that Carter would make her ridiculous, glared at him, and they remained staring fixedly at each other for a few moments.
"You dare!" she whispered then, held so tightly that Carter could hear her heart beat, "and I'll scream loud enough to bring every one in the place!"
"All right—you little cat!" he laughed, freeing her suddenly. Julia tossed her head and walked off without speaking, but presently an oblique swift glance at him showed his expression to be all penitent and beseeching; their eyes met, and they both laughed. Still laughing, they came upon Artheris and Connie, and all walked out together on the deserted stage.
The great empty arch was but dimly lighted, draughty, odorous, and gloomy. Beyond the extinguished footlights they could see the curved enormous cavern of the house, row upon row of empty seats. In the orchestra box two or three men, one in his coat sleeves, were disputing over an opera score. High up in the topmost gallery some one was experimenting with the calcium machine; a fan of light occasionally swept the house, or a man's profile was silhouetted against a sputter of blue flame.
Artheris and young Hazzard paced the stage, consulted, and disagreed. Connie practised a fancy step in a wide circle, her skirt caught up, her face quite free of self-consciousness. Julia sat on a box, soberly looking from face to face.
Something had happened to her, she did not yet know what. She was frightened, yet strangely bold; she experienced delicious chills, yet her cheeks were on fire. Love of life flooded her whole being in waves; she was wrapped, lulled, saturated, in a new and dreamy peace.
Julia felt a sudden warm rush of affection for Connie—dear old Con—the best friend a girl ever had! She looked about the theatre; how she loved the old "Grand!" Above all possible conditions in life it was wonderful to be Julia Page, sitting here, the very hub of the world, a being to love and be loved.
There, at that hour, she came to that second birth all women know; she was born into that world of drifting sweet odours, blending and iridescent colours, evasive and enchanting sounds, that is the kingdom of the heart. Julia did not know why, from this hour on, she was no longer a little girl, she was no longer dumb and blind and unseeing. But a new and delightful consciousness woke within her, a new sense of her own importance, her own charm.
When she and Connie strolled out again, it was, for Julia at least, into a changed world. The immortal hour of romance touched even sordid Mission Street with gold. Julia walked demurely, but conscious of every admiring glance she won from the passers-by, conscious of a score of swallows taking flight from a curb, conscious of the pathetic beauty of the little draggled mother wheeling home her sleepy baby, the setting sunlight glittering in the eyes of both.
"He's nothing but a big spoiled kid, if you want to know what I think," said Connie, ending a long dissertation to which Julia had only half listened.
"He—who?" asked Julia, suddenly recalled from dreams, and feeling her heart turn liquid within her. A weakness seized her knees, a delicious chill ran up her spine.
"Hazzard—the smarty!" Connie elucidated carelessly.
"Oh, sure!" Julia said heavily. She made no further comment.
She and Connie wandered in and out of a few shops, asking prices, and fingering laces and collars. They went into the dim, echoing old library on Post Street, to powder their noses at the mirror downstairs; they went into the music store at Sutter and Kearney, and listened for a few moments to a phonograph concert; they bought violets—ten cents for a great bunch—at the curb market about Lotta's fountain.
The sweetness of the dying spring day flooded the city, and its very essence pierced Julia's heart with a vague pain that was a pleasure, too. Presently she and Connie walked to California Street, and climbed a steep block or two to the Maison Montiverte.
Julia and her mother, and a large proportion of their acquaintances, dined chez Montiverte perhaps a hundred times a year. There was a regular twenty-five-cent dinner that was extremely good, there was a fifty-cent dinner fit for a king, and there were specialties de la maison, as, for example, a combination salad at twenty cents that was a meal in itself. Irrespective of the other order, the guest of the Maison Montiverte was regaled with boiled shrimps or crabs' legs while he waited for his dinner, was eagerly served with all the delicious French bread and butter that he could eat, and had a little cup of superb black coffee without charge to finish his meal. Brilliant piano music swept the rooms whenever any guest cared to send the waiter with a five-cent piece to the old mechanical piano, and sprightly conversation, carried on from table to table, gave the place that tone that Monsieur Montiverte considered to be its most valuable asset. Monsieur himself was a dried-up little rat of a man, grizzled, and as brown as a walnut. Madame was large and superb and young, smooth faced, brown haired, regal in manner. It was said that Madame had had a predecessor, a lady now living in France, whose claim upon Jules Montiverte was still valid. However that might be, it did not seem to worry Jules, nor his calm and lovely companion, nor their two daughters, black-eyed baby girls, whose heavy straight hair was crimped at the ends into bands of brownish-black fuzz, and who wore white stockings and tasselled boots, and flounced, elaborately embroidered white dresses on Sundays. Whatever their bar sinister, the Montivertes flourished and grew rich, and a suspicion of something irregular, some high-handed disposition of the benefit of clergy, helped rather than hurt their business.
Julia and Connie were early to-night, and took their regular places at a long table that was as yet surrounded only by empty chairs. Madame, who was feeding bread and milk to a black-eyed three-year-old at a little table in a corner, nodded a welcome, and a young Frenchwoman, putting her head in through a swinging door at the back, nodded, too, and said, showing a double row of white teeth:
"Yes, we'll wait for the others!" Connie called back. She and Julia nibbled French bread, and played with their knives and forks while they waited.
The dining-room had that aspect of having been made for domestic and adapted to general use that is so typically un-American, yet so dear to the American heart. An American manager would have torn down partitions, papered in brown cartridge, curtained in pongee, and laid a hardwood floor. Monsieur Montiverte left the two drawing-rooms as they were: a shabby red carpet was under foot, stiff Nottingham curtains filtered the bright sunlight, and an old-fashioned paper in dull arabesques of green and brown and gold made a background for framed dark engravings, "Franklin at the Court of France," and "The Stag at Bay," and other pictures of their type. The tablecloths were coarse, the china and glass heavy, and the menus were written in blue indelible pencil, in a curly French hand. From the windows at the back one could look out upon an iron-railed balcony, a garden beyond, and the old, brick, balconied houses of the Chinese quarter. At the left the California Street cable car climbed the hill, and the bell tower of old St. Mary's rose sombre and dignified against the soft sunset sky. At the right were the Park, with a home-going tide pouring through it at this hour, and Kearney Street with its jangling car bells, and below, the square roofs of the warehouse district, and the spire of the ferry building, and the bay framed in its rim of hills. Montiverte owned the house in which he conducted his business; it was one of the oldest in the city, built by the French pioneers who were the first to erect permanent homes in the new land. This had been the fashionable part of town in 1860, but its stately old homes were put to strange uses in these days. Boarding-houses of the lowest class, shops, laundries, saloons, and such restaurants as Jules Montiverte's overran the district; the Chinese quarter pressed hard upon one side, and what was always called the "bad" part of town upon the other. Yet only two blocks away, straight up the hill, were some of San Francisco's most beautiful homes, the brownstone mansion, then the only one in California, that some homesick Easterner built at fabulous cost, the great house that had been recently given for an institute of art, and the homes of two or three of the railroad kings.
Patrons of Montiverte began to saunter in by twos and threes. Some of these the girls knew, and saluted familiarly; others were strangers, and ignored, and made to feel as uncomfortable as possible. Julia's beauty was always the object of notice, and she loved to appear entirely unconscious of it, to sparkle and chatter as if no eyes were upon her. Emeline came in, with one or two older women, and Julia looked up from a great bowl of soup to nod to her.
"Sign up?" asked Emeline languidly. And two or three strangers, obviously impressed by the term, waited for the answer.
"Oh, I guess I'll do it to please Artheris!" Julia said. The girl was fairly aglow to-night, palpitating and thrilling with youth and the joy of life. Everything distracted her—everything amused her—yet now and then she found a quiet moment in which to take out her little memories of the afternoon, and to review them with a curiously palpitating heart.
"If you like me and I like you ... I want to talk about you ... do you know you're absolutely fascinating? ... you're going to kiss me for that! ..." She could still hear his voice, feel his arm about her.
Somebody producing free seats for the Alcazar Theatre, Julia allowed herself to drift along with the crowd. They were late for the performance, but nobody cared; they had all seen it before, and after commenting on it in a way that somewhat annoyed their neighbours, straggled out, in the beginning of the last act, giggling and chewing gum. Julia, raising bewildered, sweet, childish eyes to the stars above noisy O'Farrell Street, was brought suddenly to earth by a touch on her arm.
It was a dark, tall young man who stepped out of a shadowy doorway to address her, a man of twenty, perhaps, with all the ripe and sensuous beauty of the young Jew. His skin was a clear olive, his magnificent black eyes were set off with evenly curling lashes, and his firm mouth, under its faint moustache, made a touch of scarlet colour among the rich brunette tones. He was dressed with a scrupulous niceness, and carried a long light overcoat on his arm.
"Julia!" he said sombrely, coming forward, his eyes only for her.
"Why, hello, Mark!" Julia answered. And with a little concern creeping into her manner she went on, "Why, what is it?"
Young Rosenthal glanced at her friends, and, formally offering her his arm, said seriously: "You will walk with me?"
"We were going down to Haas's for ice-cream sodas," Julia submitted hesitatingly.
"Well, I will take you there," Mark said. And as the others, nodding good-naturedly at this, drifted on ahead, Julia found herself walking down O'Farrell Street on the arm of a tall and handsome man.
It was the first time that she had done just this thing—or if not the first time, it had never seemed to have any particular significance before. Now, however, Julia felt in her heart a little flutter of satisfaction. Somehow Mark did not seem just a commonplace member of the "Rosenthal gang" to-night, nor did she seem "the Page kid." Mark was a man, and—thrilling thought!—was angry at Julia, and Julia, hanging on his arm, with a hundred street lights flashing on her little powdered nose and saucy hat, was at last a "young lady!"
"What's the matter, Mark?" she asked, by way of opening the conversation.
"Oh, nothing whatever!" Mark answered, in a rich, full voice, and with elaborate irony. "You promised to go to the Orpheum with me, and I waited—and I waited—and you did not come. But that is nothing, of course!"
Julia's anger smote her dumb for a moment. Then she jerked her arm from his, and burst out:
"I'll tell you why I didn't meet you to-night, Mark Rosenthal, and if you don't like it, you know what you can do! Last week you asked me would I go to Morosco's with you, and I said yes, and then when it came right down to it—your mother wasn't going, and Sophy and Hannah weren't going, and Otto wasn't going—and I tell you right now that Mama don't like me to go to the theatre—"
"Well, well, well!" Mark interrupted soothingly, half laughing, half aghast at this burst of rebuke from the usually gentle Julia. "Don't be so cross about it! So—" He put her arm in his again. "I like to have you to myself, Julia," he said, his boyish, handsome face suddenly flushing, his voice very low. "Do you know why?"
"No," said Julia after a pause, the word strangling her.
"You don't, eh?" Mark said, with a smiling side glance.
"Nope," said Julia, dimpling as she returned the look, and shutting her pretty lips firmly over the little word.
"Do you know you are ador-r-rable?" Mark said, in a sort of eager rush. "Will you go to Maskey's with me, instead of joining the others at Haas's?" he asked, more quietly.
"Well," Julia said. She was her own mistress. Her mother had gone home during the play with Mrs. Toomey, who complained of a headache. So, grinning like conspirators, they stayed on the south side of the street until it joined Market, and then went by the fountain and the big newspaper buildings, and slipped into the confectioner's. Julia sent an approving side glance at herself in the mirror, as she drew a satisfied breath of the essence-laden air. She loved lights, perfumes, voices—and all were here.
An indifferent young woman wiped their table with a damp rag, as she took their order, both, with the daring of their years, deciding upon the murderous combination of banana ice-cream and soda with chopped nuts and fruit. Julia had no sooner settled back contentedly to wait for it, than her eye encountered the beaming faces of her late companions, who, finding Haas's crowded, had naturally drifted on to Maskey's.
Much giggling and blushing and teasing ensued. Julia was radiant as a rose; every time she caught sight of her own pretty reflection in the surrounding mirrors, a fresh thrill of self-confidence warmed her. She and Mark followed the banana confection with a dish apiece of raspberry ice-cream, and afterward walked home—it was not far—to the house in which they both lived.
"And so we don't quarrel any more?" Mark asked, in the dim hallway outside her door.
"Not if you won't play mean tricks on me!" Julia pouted, raising her face so that the dim light of the gas jet that burned year in and year out, in the blistered red-glass shade, fell upon the soft curves of her face.
It was a deliberate piece of coquetry, and Julia, although neither he nor any other man had ever done it before, was not at all surprised to have Mark suddenly close his strong arms about her, and kiss her, with a sort of repressed violence, on the mouth. She struggled from his hold, as a matter of course, laughed a little laugh of triumph and excitement, and shut herself into her own door.
Emeline was lying in bed, looking over some fashion and theatrical magazines. Upon her daughter's entrance she gave a comfortable yawn.
"Did Mark find you, Julie? He was sitting on the stairs when I got home, mad because you didn't go out with them."
"Yep, he found me!" Julia answered, still panting.
"It strikes me he's a little mushy on you, Julie," Emeline said, lazily, turning a page. "And if you were a little older, or he had more of a job, I'd give him a piece of my mind. You ain't going to marry his sort, I should hope. But, Lord, you're both only kids!"
"I guess I can mind my own business, Mama," Julia said.
"Well, I guess you can," Emeline conceded amiably. "Look, Ju, at the size of these sleeves—ain't that something fierce? Get the light out as soon as you can, lovey," she added, flinging away her magazine, and rolling herself tight in the covers, with bright eyes fixed on the girl.
Ten minutes later Emeline was asleep. But Julia lay long awake, springtime in her blood, her eyes smiling mysteriously into the dark.