The family of Dr. Robert Toland, discovered at breakfast in the Tolands' big house in Sausalito on an exquisite May morning, presented to the casual onlooker as charming a picture of home life as might be found in the length and breadth of California. The sunny dining-room, with its windows wide open to sunshine and fresh sea air, the snowy curtains blowing softly to and fro, the wide sideboard where the children's outgrown mugs stood in a battered and glittering row, the one or two stiff, flat, old oil portraits that looked down from the walls, the jars of yellow acacia bloom, and bowls of mingled wild flowers; these made a setting wonderfully well suited to the long table and the happy family about it.
There were seven children, five girls and two boys; there was the gracious, genial mother at the head and the wiry, gray-haired and gray-bearded surgeon at the foot; there was, as usual, Jim Studdiford, and to-day, besides, there was Aunt Sanna, an unmarried younger sister of the doctor, and a little black-eyed, delicate ten-year-old guest of the eleven-year-old Janie, Keith Borroughs, who was sitting near to Janie, and evidently adoring that spirited chatterbox. And there was Addie, a cheerful black-clad person in a crackling white apron, coming and going with muffins and bacon, and Toy, who was a young cousin of Hee, the cook, and who padded softly in Addie's wake, making himself generally useful.
Barbara, very pretty, very casual as to what she ate, sat next to her father; she was the oldest of the seven Tolands, and slipping very reluctantly out of her eighteenth year. Ned, a big, handsome fellow of sixteen, came next in point of age, and then a tall, lanky, awkward blond boy, Richie, with a plain thin face and the sweetest smile of them all. Richie never moved without the aid of a crutch, and perhaps never would. After Richie, and nearing fourteen, was a sweet, fat, giggling lump of a girl called Sally, with a beautiful skin and beautiful untidy hair, and a petticoat always dragging, a collar buttoned awry, and a belt that never by any chance united her pretty shirt waist to her crisp linen skirt. Only a year younger than Sally was Theodora, whose staid, precocious beauty Barbara already found disquieting—"Ted" was already giving signs of rivalling her oldest sister—then came Jane, bold, handsome, boyish at eleven, and lastly eight-year-old Constance, a delicate, pretty, tearful little girl who was spoiled by every member of the family.
The children's mother was a plump, handsome little woman with bright, flashing eyes, dimples, and lovely little hands covered with rings. There was no gray in her prettily puffed hair, and, if she was stouter than any of her daughters, none could show a more trimly controlled figure. Mrs. Toland had been impressed in the days of her happy girlhood with the romantic philosophies of the seventies. To her, as an impulsive young woman brimful of the zest of living, all babies had been "just too dear and sweet," all marriages were "simply lovely" regardless of circumstances, and all men were "just the dearest great big manly fellows that ever were!" As Miss Sally Ford, Mrs. Toland had flashed about on many visits to her girl friends admiring, exclaiming, rejoicing in their joys, and now, as a mother of growing girls and boys, there still hung between her and real life the curtain of her unquenchable optimism. She loved babies, and they had come very fast, and been cared for by splendid maids, and displayed in effective juxtaposition to their gay little mother for the benefit of admiring friends, when opportunity offered. And if, in the early days of her married life, there had ever been troublous waters to cross, Sally Toland had breasted them gallantly, her fixed, confident smile never wavering.
At first Doctor Toland had felt something vaguely amiss in this persistent attitude of radiant and romantic surety. "Are you sure the boy understands?" "D'ye think Bab isn't old enough to know that you're just making that up?" he would ask uneasily, when a question of disciplining Ned or consoling Barbara arose. But Mrs. Toland always was sure of her course, and would dimple at him warningly: "Of course it's all right, Daddykins, and we're all going to be happy, and not even think of our naughty old troubles any more!"
So the doctor gave her her way, and settled back to enjoy his children and his wife, his yacht and his roses; growing richer and more famous, more genial and perhaps a little more mildly cynical as time went on. And the children grew up, their mother, never dreaming that Barbara at eighteen was more than the sweet, light-hearted, manageable child she had been at ten; that Ned was beginning to taste of a life of whose existence she was only vaguely aware; that Sally was plotting an escape to the ranks of trained nurses; that Ted needed a firm hand and close watching if she were not to break all their hearts. No, to Mrs. Toland they were still her "rosebud garden," "just the merriest, romping crowd of youngsters that ever a little scrap of a woman had to keep in order!"
"Now, you're going to wipe that horrid frown off your forehead, Daddy," she would say blithely, if Doctor Toland confessed to a misgiving in the contemplation of any one of his seven, "and stop worrying about Richie! His bad old hip is going to get well, and he'll be walking just like any one else in no time!" And in the same tone she said to Barbara: "I know my darling girl is going to that luncheon, and going to forget that her hat isn't quite the thing for the occasion," and said to little Constance, "We're going to forget that it's raining, and not think about dismal things any more!" No account of flood or fire or outrage was great enough to win from her more than a rueful smile, a sigh, and a brisk: "Well, I suppose such things must be, or they wouldn't be permitted. Don't let's think about it!"
Women who knew Mrs. Toland spoke of her as "wonderful." And indeed she was wonderful in many ways, a splendid manager, a delightful hostess, and essentially motherly and domestic in type. She was always happy and always busy, gathering violets, chaperoning Sally or Barbara at the dentist's, selecting plaids for the "girlies'" winter suits. Her married life—all her life, in fact—had been singularly free from clouds, and she expected the future to be even brighter, when "splendid, honourable men" should claim her girls, one by one, and all the remembered romance of her youth begin again. That the men would be forthcoming she did not doubt; had not Fate already delivered Jim Studdiford into her hands for Barbara?
James Studdiford, who had just now finished his course at medical college, was affectionately known to the young Tolands as "Jim," and stood to them in a relationship peculiarly pleasing to Mrs. Toland. He was like a brother, and yet, actually, he bore not the faintest real kinship to—well, to Barbara, for instance. Years before, twenty years before, to be exact, Doctor Toland, then unmarried, and unacquainted, as it happened, with the lovely Miss Sally Ford, had been engaged to a beautiful young widow, a Mrs. Studdiford, who had been left with a large fortune and a tiny boy some two years before. This was in Honolulu, where people did a great deal of riding in those days, and it presently befell that the doctor, two weeks before the day that had been set for the wedding, found himself kneeling beside his lovely fiancee on a rocky headland, as she lay broken and gasping where her horse had flung her, and straining to catch the last few agonized words she would ever say:
"You'll—keep Jim—with you, Robert?"
How Doctor Toland brought the small boy to San Francisco, how he met the dashing and indifferent Sally, and how she came at last to console him for his loss, was another story, one that Mrs. Toland never tired of telling. Little Jim had his place in their hearts from their wedding day. Barbara was eleven years old when, with passionate grief, she learned that he was not her half brother, and many casual friends did not know it to this day. Jim, to the doctor's delight, chose to follow the profession of his foster father, and had stumbled, with not too much application, through medical college. Now he was to go to New York for hospital work, and then to Berlin for a year's real grind, and until the Eastern hospital should open classes, was back in his old enormous third-floor bedroom upstairs, enjoying a brief season of idleness and petting, the handsome, unaffected, sunshiny big brother of Mrs. Toland's fondest dreams.
"And he can hardly keep his eyes off Babbie," the mother confided to her sister-in-law.
Miss Toland gave her a shrewd glance.
"For heaven's sake don't get that notion in your head, Sally! Babbie may be ready to make a little fool of herself, but if ever I saw a man who isn't in love, it's Jim!" said Miss Toland, who was a thin, gray-haired, well-dressed woman of forty, with a curious magnetism quite her own. Miss Toland had lived in France for the ten years before thirty, and had a Frenchwoman's reposeful yet alert manner, and a Frenchwoman's art in dressing. After many idle years, she had suddenly become deeply interested in settlement work, had built a little settlement house, "The Alexander Toland Neighbourhood House," in one of the factory districts south of San Francisco, and was in a continual state of agitation and upset because worthy settlement workers were at that time almost an unknown quantity in California. Just at present she was availing herself of her brother's hospitality because she had no assistant at all at the "Alexander," and was afraid to stay in its very unsavoury environment alone. She loved Barbara dearly, but she was usually perverse with her sister-in-law.
"You may say what you like about notions in my head," Mrs. Toland answered with a wise little nod. "But the dear girl is radiant every time she looks at him, and both Dad and I think we notice a new protective quality in Jim—"
"Did Robert say so?" Miss Toland asked dryly. To this Mrs. Toland answered with a merry laugh and a little squeeze of her sister-in-law's arm.
"Oh, you old Sanna!" she chided. "You won't believe that there's a blessed time when Nature just takes the young things by the hand and pushes them right into happiness, whether or no!"
This little talk had taken place just before breakfast, and now Mrs. Toland was reassuring herself of her own position with many a glance at Barbara and at Jim. Barbara seemed serious almost to ungraciousness—that might be a sign. Jim was teasing Sally, who laughed deeply and richly, like a child, and spilled her orange juice on her fresh gown. Perhaps he was trying to pique Barbara by assuming an indifferent manner—that might be it——
"Jim!" It was Barbara speaking. Jim did not hear. "Jim," said Barbara again, patient and cold.
"I beg your pardon!" Jim said with swift contrition. His glance flashed to Barbara for a second, flashed back to Sally. "Now, you throw that—you throw that," said he to the latter young woman, in reference to a glass of water with which she was carelessly toying, "and you'll be sorrier than you ever were in your life!"
"Sally, what are you thinking of!" her mother said.
"Look out—look out!" Sally said, swinging the glass up and down. Suddenly she set it back on the table firmly. "You deserve that straight in your face, Jim, but Mother'd be mad!"
"Well, I should think Mother would!" Mrs. Toland said, in smiling reproof. "But we interrupted Bab, I think. Bab had something dreadfully important to say," she added playfully, "to judge from that great big frown!"
"It wasn't dreadfully important at all," Barbara said, in cold annoyance.
"Oh, wasn't it? And what was it, dear?"
"It was simply—it was nothing at all," Barbara protested, reddening. "I was just thinking that we have to have that rehearsal at the clubhouse this afternoon, and I was wondering if Jim would walk down there with me now, and see about getting the room ready——"
"Dad's got an eleven-o'clock operation, and I'm going to assist," said Jim.
"Did you forget that, dear?" Mrs. Toland asked.
"It's of no consequence," said Barbara, her voice suddenly thick with tears. Her hand trembled as she reached for a muffin.
"Keith, do you want to go down with us to the rehearsal this afternoon?" said Sally amiably to the little guest.
"Oh, I don't think the whole pack of us ought to go!" Ted protested in alarm. "You aren't going to let Janey and Con go, are you, Mother?"
"Oh, why not?" Mrs. Toland asked soothingly. Barbara here returned to the discussion with a tragic: "Mother, they can't! It would look perfectly awful!"
"Well, you don't own the yacht club, you know, Babbie," Ted supplied sweetly.
"Well," said Barbara, rising, and speaking quickly in a low voice, "of course the whole family, including Addie and Hee, can troop down there if they want to, but I think it's too bad that I can't do a thing in this family without being tagged by a bunch of kids!"
The door closed behind her; they could hear her running upstairs.
"Now she'll cry; she's getting to be an awful cry baby," said Janey, wide eyed, pleasurably excited.
"Doesn't seem very well, does she, Mummie? Not a bit like herself," said the head of the house, raising mild eyebrows.
"Now, never mind; she's just a little bit tired and excited over this 'Amazon' thing," Mrs. Toland assured him cheerfully, "and she'll have a little talk with Mother by and by, and be her sweet self again by lunch time!"
The little episode was promptly blotted out by the rising tide of laughter and conversation that was usual at breakfast. Miss Toland presently drifted into the study for some letter writing. Jim took a deep porch rocker, and carried off the morning papers. Richie, sitting at his father's left, squared about for one of the eager rambling talks of which he and his father never tired. The doctor's blue eyes twinkled over his theories of religion, science, history, poetry, and philosophy. Richie's lean, colourless face was bright with interest. Ted volunteered, as she often volunteered of late, to go for the mail, and sauntered off under a red parasol, and Mrs. Toland slipped from the table just in time to waylay her oldest son in the hall.
"Not going to catch the 9:40, Ned?" she asked.
"Sure pop I am!" He was sorry to be caught, and she saw it under his bluff, pleasant manner.
"You couldn't take the 10:20 with Dad and Jim?"
"I've got to meet Reynolds at half-past ten, Mother," the boy said patiently.
"Reynolds!" she frowned. "Don't like my fine big boy to have friends like that—" His eyes warned her. "Friends that aren't as fine and dear and good as he is!" she finished, her hands on his shoulders.
"Reynolds is all right," said Ned, bored, and looking coldly beyond her.
"And you'll be home for dinner, Ned?"
"Sure! Unless the Orpheum should be awfully long. In that case we may get a bite somewhere."
"Try to be home for dinner," persisted the mother. And, as if to warrant the claim on his consideration, she added: "I paid the Cutter bill myself, dear, and Dad will pay Jordan next month. I didn't say anything about Cutter, but he begged me to make you feel how wrong it is to let these things run. You have a splendid allowance, Ned," she was almost apologetic, "and there's no necessity of running over it, dear!"
"Sure. I'm not going to do that again," Ned said gruffly, uncomfortably.
"That's right, dear! And you will—you'll try to be home for dinner?"
"Sure I'll try!" and Ned was gone, down through the roses and through the green gate.
Mrs. Toland watched him out of sight. Then she trotted off to Hee's domain. Sally straggled out into the garden, with Janey and Constance and the small boy following after. There was great distress because the little girls were all for tennis, and Keith Borroughs frankly admitted that he hated tennis.
The Tolands' rambling mansion was built upon so sharp a hill that the garden beds were bulkheaded like terraces, and the paths were steep. Roses—delicious great white roses and the apricot-coloured San Rafael rose—climbed everywhere, and hung in fragrant festoons from the low, scrub-oak trees that were scattered through the garden. Every vista ended with the blue bay, and the green gate at the garden's foot opened directly upon a roadway that hung like a shelf above the water.
Sally and the children gathered nasturtiums and cornflowers and ferns for the house. The place had been woodland only a few years ago, the earth was rich with rotting leaves, and all sorts of lovely forest growths fringed the paths. Groups of young oaks and an occasional bay or madrone tree broke up any suggestion of formal arrangement, and there were still wild columbine and mission bells in the shady places.
Presently, to the immense satisfaction of her little sisters, Sally dismissed them for tennis, and carried the music-mad small boy off to the old nursery, where he could bang away at an old piano to his heart's content, while she pasted pictures in her camera book, in a sunny window. Now and then she cast a look full of motherly indulgence at the little figure at the piano: the pale, earnest little face; the tumbled black hair, the bony, big, unchildlike hands.
The morning slipped by, and afternoon came, to find Barbara welcoming the arriving players at the yacht club, and looking her very prettiest in a gown of striped scarlet and white, and a white hat. Hello, Matty—Hello, Enid—Hello, Bobby—and did any one see Miss Page? Ah, how do you do, Miss Page, awfully good of you to make it.
The girls dressed in a square room upstairs, lined with hooks and mirrors. Julia was not self-conscious, because, while different from the crisp snowy whiteness of the other girls' linen, it did not occur to her that her well-worn pink silk underwear, her ornate corset cover, and her shabby ruffled green silk skirt were anything but adequate.
Carter Hazzard was not in evidence to-day, to Julia's relief. The rehearsal dragged on and on, everybody thrown out because Miss Dorothy Chase, the girl who was to play Wilhelmina, failed to appear. Julia took the part, when it was finally decided to go on without Dorothy, but by that time it was late, and the weary manager assured them that there must be another rehearsal that evening. Hilariously the young people accepted this decree, and Julia was carried home with the Tolands to dinner.
Good-hearted Mrs. Toland could be nothing less than kind to any young girl, and Julia's place at table was next to the kindly old doctor, who only saw an extremely pretty girl, and joked with her, and looked out for her comfort in true fatherly fashion. Julia carried herself with great dignity, said very little, being in truth quite overawed and nervously anxious not to betray herself, and after the first frightened half-hour she enjoyed the adventure thoroughly.
The evening rehearsal went much better, a final rehearsal was set for Sunday, and Julia was driven to the ten o'clock boat in the station omnibus, which smelled of leather and wet straw. She sat yawning in the empty ferry building, smiling over her recollection of dinner at the Tolands': the laughter, the quarrels, the joyous confusion of voices.
Suddenly struck by the deserted silence of the waiting-room, Julia jumped up and went to the ticket office.
"Isn't there a train at 10:03?"
The station agent yawned, eyed her with pleasant indifference.
"No train now until 12:20, lady," said he.
For a moment Julia was staggered. Then she thought of the telephone.
A few minutes later she climbed out of the station omnibus again, this time to be warmly welcomed into the Tolands' lamp-lighted drawing-room. Barbara and her mother were still at the yacht club, but the old doctor himself was eagerly apologetic. Doctor Studdiford, Ned, and Richie added their cheerful questions and regrets to the hospitable hubbub, and Sally, who had been at the piano, singing Scotch ballads to her father, took possession of Julia with heartening and obvious pleasure.
Sally took her upstairs, lighted a small but exquisitely appointed guest room, found a stiffly embroidered nightgown, a wrapper of dark-blue Japanese crepe, and a pair of straw slippers. Julia, inwardly trembling with excitement, was outwardly calm as she got ready for bed; she hung her clothes in a closet delightfully redolent of pine, and brushed and braided her splendid hair. Sally whisked about on various errands, and presently Mrs. Toland bustled in, brimful of horrified apologies and regrets, and Barbara dawdled after, rolling her belt and starched stock, generally unhooking and unbuttoning.
Perhaps the haughty Barbara found the round-eyed, golden-haired girl in a blue wrapper a little more companionable than the dreadful Miss Page, or perhaps she was a little too lonely to-night to be fastidious in her choice of a confidante. At all events, she elected to wander in and out of Julia's room while she undressed, and presently sat on Julia's bed, and braided her dark hair. And if the whole adventure had excited Julia, she was doubly excited now, frantic to win Barbara's friendship, nervously afraid to try.
"You're an actress, Miss Page?" asked Barbara, scowling at her hairbrush.
"Will be, I guess! I've had dozens of chances to sign up already, but Mama don't want me to be in any rush."
The other girl eyed her almost enviously.
"I wish I could do something—sometimes," she sighed. And she added, giving Julia a shamefaced grin, "I've got the blues to-night."
It was from this second that Julia dated her love for Barbara Toland. A delicious sensation enveloped her—to be in Barbara's confidence—to know that she was sometimes unhappy, too; to be lying in this fragrant, snowy bed, in this enchanting room—
"Well," said Barbara presently, jumping up, "you'll want some sleep. If you hear us rushing about, at the screech of dawn to-morrow, it's because some of us may go out with Dad in the Crow, if there's a breeze. Do you like yachting? Would you care to go?"
"I've never been," said Julia.
"Oh, well, then, you ought to!" Barbara said with round eyes. "I'll tell you—I'll peep in here to-morrow, and if you're awake I'll give you a call!" she arranged, after a minute's frowning thought.
"I sleep awfully sound!" smiled Julia.
But she was awake when Barbara, true to her plan, peeped in at five o'clock the next morning, and presently, in a bluejacket's blouse and brief blue skirt, with a white canvas hat on her head, and a boy's old gray jersey buttoned loosely about her, followed muffled shapes through the cold house and into the wet, chilly garden. Richie was going, Sally had the gallant but shivering Jane and the dark-eyed Keith by the hand, and Barbara hung on her father's arm.
The waters of the bay were gray and cold; a sharp breeze swept their steely surfaces into fans of ruffled water. The little Crow rocked at her anchor, her ropes and brasswork beaded with dew. Julia, sitting in desperate terror upon a slanting upholstered ledge, felt her teeth chatter, and wondered why she had come.
Barbara, Sally, Richie, and their father all fell to work, and presently, a miracle to Julia, the little boat was running toward Richardson's Bay under a good breeze. Presently glorious sunlight enveloped them, flashed from a thousand windows on San Francisco hills, and struck to dazzling whiteness the breasts of the gulls that circled Sausalito's piers. Everything sparkled and shone: the running blue water that slapped the Crow's side, the roofs of houses on the hillside, the green trees that nearly concealed them.
Growing every instant warmer and more content, Julia sat back and let her whole body and soul soak in the comfort and beauty of the hour. Her eyes roved sea and sky and encircling hills; she saw the last wisp of mist rise and vanish from the stern silhouette of Tamalpais, and saw an early ferryboat cut a wake of exquisite spreading lacework across the bay. And whenever her glance crossed Sally's, or the doctor's, or Richie's glance, she smiled like a happy child, and the Tolands smiled back.
They all rushed into the house, ravenous and happy, for a nine o'clock breakfast, Julia so lovely, in her borrowed clothing and with her bright, loosened hair, that the young men of the family began, without exception, to "show off" for her benefit, as Theodora scornfully expressed it. And there was bacon and rolls and jam for every one, blue bowls of cereal, glass pitchers of yellow cream, smoking hot coffee always ready to run in an amber stream from the spout of the big silver urn.
"And you must eat at least four waffles," said Ned, "or my father will never let you come again! He has to drum up trade, you know—"
It was all delightful, not the less so because it was all tinged, for Julia, with a little current of something exquisitely painful; not envy, not regret, not resentment, a little of all three. This happy, care-free, sun-flooded life was not for her, how far, far, far from her, indeed! She was here only by accident, tolerated gayly for hospitality's sake, her coming and going only an insignificant episode in their lives. Wistfully she watched Mrs. Toland tying little Constance's sash and straightening her flower-crowned hat for church; wistfully eyed the cheerful, white-clad Chinese cook, grinning as he went to gather lettuces; wistfully she stared across the brilliant garden from her deep porch chair. Barbara, in conference with a capped and aproned maid at the end of a sunny corridor, Sally chatting with Richie, as she straightened the scattered books on the library table, Ted dashing off a popular waltz with her head turned carelessly aside to watch the attentive Keith; all these to Julia were glimpses of a life so free, so full, so invigorating as to fill her with hopeless longing and admiration.
All her affectation and arrogance dropped from her before their simple, joyous naturalness. Julia had no feeling of wishing to impress them, to assert her own equality. Instead she genuinely wanted them to like her; she carried herself like the little girl she looked in her sailor blouse, like the little girl she was.
At twelve o'clock a final rehearsal of "The Amazons" was held at the yacht club, and to-day Julia entered into her part with zest, her enthusiasm really carrying the performance, as the appreciative "Matty" assured her. She had the misfortune to step on a ruffle of her borrowed white petticoat, at the very close of the last act, and slipped into the dressing-room to pin it up as soon as the curtain descended.
The dressing-room was deserted. Julia found a paper of pins, and, putting her foot up on a chair, began to repair the damage as well as she could. The day was warm, and only wooden shutters screened the big window that gave on one of the club's wide porches. Julia, humming contentedly to herself, presently became aware that there were chairs just outside the window, and girls in the chairs—Barbara Toland and Ted, and Miss Grinell and Miss Hazzard, and one or two Julia did not know.
"Yes, Mother's a darling," Barbara was saying. "You know she didn't get this up, Margaret; she had nothing to do with it, and yet she's practically carrying the whole responsibility now! She'll be as nervous as we are to-morrow night!"
Julia pinned on serenely. It was in no code of hers to move out of hearing.
"The only thing she really bucked at was when she found Miss Page at our house last night," Ted said. "Mother's no snob—but I wish you could have seen her face!"
"Was she perfectly awful, Ted?" somebody asked.
"Who, Miss Page? No-o, she wasn't perfectly awful—yes, she was pretty bad," Theodora admitted. "Wasn't she, Babbie?"
"Oh, well"—Barbara hesitated—"she's—of course she's terribly common. Just the second-rate actress type, don't you know?"
"Did she call your Mother 'ma'am'?" giggled Enid Hazzard. "Do you remember when she said 'Yes, ma'am?' And did she say 'eyether,' and 'between you and I' again?" Something was added to this, but Julia did not catch it. The girls laughed again.
"Listen," said Ted, "this is the richest yet! Last night Sally said to her, 'Breakfast's at nine, Miss Page; how do you like your bath?' and she looked at Sally sort of surprised and said, 'I don't want a bath!'"
"Oh, I don't think that's fair, Teddy," Barbara protested; "she's never had any advantages; it's a class difference, that's all. She's simply not a lady; she never will be. You'd be the same in her place."
"Oh, I would not! I wouldn't mark my eyebrows and I wouldn't wear such dirty clothes, and I wouldn't try to look twenty-five—" Ted began.
Again there was a quick commentary that Julia missed, and another laugh. Then Barbara said:
"Poor kid! And she looked so sweet in some of Sally's things."
Julia, still bent over her ruffle, did not move a muscle from the instant she first heard her name until now, when the girls dismissed the subject with a laugh. She felt as if the house were falling about her, as if every word were a smashing blow at her very soul. She felt sick and dizzy, cold and suddenly weak.
She walked across the room to the door, and stood there with her hand on the knob, and said in a whisper: "Now, what shall I do? What shall I do?"
At first she thought she would hide, then that she would run away. Then she knew what she must do: she opened the dressing-room door, and walked unchallenged through the big auditorium. Groups of chattering people were scattered about it; somebody was banging the piano; nobody paid the least attention to Julia as she went down the stairs, and started to walk to the Toland house.
She was not thinking now. She only wanted to get away.
Nobody stopped her. The house was deserted. A maid put her head in Julia's door, and finding Julia dressing immediately apologized.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Page! I thought—"
"That's all right," said Julia quietly. She was very pale. "Will you tell Mrs. Toland that I had to take the two o'clock boat?"
"Yes'm. You won't be here for dinner?"
"No," said Julia, straining to make a belt meet.
"Could I bring you a cup of tea or a sandwich?"
"Oh, no, thank you!"
The maid was gone. Julia went down through the house quietly, a few moments later. Her breath came quick and short until she was fairly on the boat, with Sausalito slipping farther and farther into the background. Even then her mind was awhirl, and fatigue and perhaps hunger, too, made it impossible to think seriously. Far easier to lean back lazily in the sun, and watch the water slip by, and make no attempt to control the confused, chaotic thoughts that wheeled dreamily through her brain. Now and then memory brought her to a sudden upright position, brought the hot colour to her face.
"I don't care!" Julia would say then, half aloud. "They're nothing to me and I'm nothing to them; and good riddance!"
May—but it was like a midsummer afternoon in San Francisco. A hot wind blew across the ferry place; papers and chaff swept before it. Julia's skirt was whisked about her knees, her hat was twisted viciously about on her head. She caught a reflection of herself in a car window, dishevelled, her hat at an ugly angle, her nose reddened by the wind.
Mrs. Tarbury's house, when she got to it, presented its usual Sunday afternoon appearance. The window curtains were up at all angles in the dining-room, hot sunshine streamed through the fly-specked panes, the draught from the open door drove a wild whirl of newspapers over the room. Cigarette smoke hung heavy upon the air.
Julia peeped into the dark kitchen; the midday meal was over, and a Japanese boy was hopelessly and patiently attacking scattered heaps of dishes and glassware. The girl was hungry, but the cooling wreck of a leg of mutton and the cold vegetables swimming in water did not appeal to her, and she went slowly upstairs, helping herself in passing to no more substantial luncheon than two soda crackers and a large green pickle.
Mrs. Tarbury, dressed in a loose kimono, with her bare feet thrust into well-worn Juliet slippers, was lying across her bed, in the pleasant leisure of Sunday afternoon, a Dramatic Supplement held in one fat ringed hand, her head supported by her pillows in soiled muslin cases, and several satin and velvet cushions from a couch. In the room also were Connie Girard and Rose Ransome, who had a bowl of soapsuds and several scissors and orange-wood sticks on the table between them, and were manicuring each other very fastidiously. A third actress, a young Englishwoman with a worn, hard face, rouged cheeks, and glittering eyes, was calling, with her little son, upon Mrs. Tarbury.
"Hello, darling!" said the lady of the house herself, as Julia came in. The girls gave her an affectionate welcome, and Julia was introduced to the stranger.
"Mrs. Cloke is my real name," said the Englishwoman briskly. "But you'd know me better as Alice Le Grange, I daresay. You'll have heard of my little sketches—the Mirror gave Mr. Cloke and I a whole page when first we came to this country, and we had elegant bookings—elegant. I'd my little flat in New York all furnished, and," she said to Mrs. Tarbury, "I was used to everything—the managers at home all knew me, and all, you know—" She laughed with some bitterness. "It does seem funny to be out here doing this," she added. "But there was the kiddy to consider—and, as I told you, there was trouble!"
"Parties who used their influence to get 'em out!" said Miss Girard darkly, in explanation, with a glance at Julia. "Favouritism—"
"And jealousy," added Alice Le Grange.
Julia was sympathetic, but not deeply impressed. She had heard this story in many forms before. She attracted the attention of little Eric Cloke, and showed him the pictures of the Katzenjammer Kids and Foxy Grandpa in the newspaper. Later she accompanied Rose and Connie to their room, put on loose clothing, and lay on her bed watching them dress.
The girls were to dine together, with two admirers, and urged Julia to ask a third man, and come, too. Julia refused steadily; she was very quiet and the others thought her tired.
She lay on her side, one hand falling idle over the edge of the bed, her serious, magnificent eyes moving idly from Connie's face to Rose's, and roving over the room. Hot sunlight poured through the dirty windows and the torn curtains of Nottingham lace, and flamed on the ugly wallpaper and the flawed mirrors. A thousand useless knickknacks made the room hideous; every possible surface was strewn with garments large and small, each bureau was a confusion of pins and brushes, paste and powder boxes, silk stockings and dirty white gloves, cologne bottles and powdered circles of discoloured chamois, hair kids and curls of false hair, handkerchiefs and hat pins, cheap imitations of jewellery, cheap bits of lace, sidecombs, veils and belts and collars, and a hundred other things, all wound up in an indistinguishable mass. From these somewhat sodden heaps Connie and Rose cheerfully selected what they needed, leaning over constantly to inspect their faces closely in the mirrors.
Julia watched them with a sudden, new, and almost terrifying distaste growing in her heart. How dirty and shiftless and common—yes, common—these girls were! Julia felt sick with the force of the revelation. She saw Connie lace her shabby pink-brocade corset together with a black shoestring; she saw Rose close with white thread a great hole in the heel of a black silk stocking. Their crimped hair nauseated her, their rouge and powder and cologne. She could hardly listen in patience to their careless and sometimes coarse chatter.
And when they were gone she still lay there, thinking—thinking— thinking! The sunlight crept lower and lower over the room's disorder; its last bright triangle was gone, twilight came, and the soft early darkness.
Mrs. Tarbury presently called Julia, in mellifluous accents, and the girl pulled herself stiffly from the bed, and went blinking down to an improvised supper. They two were alone in the big house, and fell into intimate conversation over their sardines and coffee and jam, discussing the characters of every person in the house with much attention to trivial detail. At nine o'clock some friends came in to see Mrs. Tarbury, and Julia went upstairs again.
She lighted the bedroom, and began idly to fold and straighten the clothes that were strewn about everywhere. But she very speedily gave up the task: there were no closets to hang things in, and many things were too torn or dirty to be hung up, anyway! Julia went down one flight of stairs to the nearest bathroom, in search of hot water, but both faucets ran cold, and she went upstairs again. She hunted through Connie's bureau and Rose's for a fresh nightgown, but not finding one, had to put on the limp and torn garment one of the girls had loaned her a week or two before.
Now she sat down on the edge of her bed, vaguely discouraged. Tears came to her eyes, she did not quite know why. She opened a novel, and composed herself to read, but could not become interested, and finally pushed up the window the two inches that the girls approved, turned out the lights, and jumped into bed. She would want her beauty sleep for "The Amazons" to-morrow night. Julia had been fully determined, when she got home, to abandon the amateur company, to fail them at the very hour of their performance, but a casual word from Connie had caused her to change her mind.
"Don't you be a fool and get in Dutch with Artheris!" Connie had said, and upon sober reflection Julia had found the advice good.
But she got no beauty sleep that night. She lay hour after hour wakeful and wretched, the jumbled memories of the last twenty-four hours slipping through her mind in ceaseless review: the green, swift-rushing water, with gulls flying over it; the coffee pot reflecting a dozen joyous young faces; the garden bright with roses—
And then, with sickening regularity, the clubhouse and the girls' voices—
How she hated them all, Julia said to herself, raising herself on one elbow to punch her sodden pillow, and sending a hot, restless glance toward the streak of bright light that forced its way in from a street lamp. How selfish, how smug, how arrogant they were, with their daily baths, and their chests full of fresh linen, and their assured speech! What had Sally and Theodora Toland ever done to warrant their insufferable conceit? Why should they have lovely parents and an ideal home, frocks and maids and delightful meals, while she, Julia, was born to the dirt and sordidness of O'Farrell Street?
Barbara—but no, she couldn't hate Barbara! The memory of that moment of confidence last night still thrilled Julia to her heart's core. Barbara had been kind to her in the matter of Carter Hazzard, had defended her to-day, in her careless, indifferent fashion. Julia's heart ached with fierce envy of Barbara, ached with fierce longing and admiration. She tortured herself with a picture of the charm of Barbara's life: her waking in the sunshine, her breakfast eaten between the old doctor and the young, her hours at her pretty writing-desk, on the porch, at the piano. Always dignified, always sweet and dainty, always adored.
Well, she, Julia, should be an actress, a great actress. But even as she flung herself on her back and stared sternly up at the ceiling, resolving it, her heart failed her. It was a long road. Julia was fifteen; she must count upon ten or fifteen years at least of slavery in stock companies, of weeks spent in rushing from one cheap hotel to another, of associating with just such women as Connie and Rose. No one that she knew, in the profession, had bureaus full of ruffled fresh linen, had a sunshiny breakfast table with flowers on it—
Julia twisted about on her arm and began to cry. She cried for a long time.
True, she could marry Mark, and Mark would be rich some day. But would Barbara Toland Studdiford—for Julia had married them as a matter of course—ever stoop to notice Julia Rosenthal? No, she wouldn't marry Mark.
Then there was her mother's home, over the saloon. Julia finally went to sleep planning, in cold-blooded childish fashion, that if her father died, and left her mother a really substantial sum of money, she would persuade Emeline to take a clean, bright little flat somewhere, and leave this neighbourhood forever.
"And we could keep a few boarders," thought Julia drowsily, "and I will learn to cook, and have nice little ginghams, like Janey's—"
The amateur performance of "The Amazons" duly took place on the following night, with a large and fashionable audience packing the old Grand Opera House, and society reporters flitting from box to box between the acts. Julia found the experience curiously flat. She had no opportunity to deliver to Barbara a withering little speech she had prepared, and received no attention from any one. The performers were excited and nervous, each frankly bent upon scoring a personal and exclusive success, and immediately after the last act they swarmed out to greet friends in the house, and Babel ensued.
Walking soberly home with Mark at half-past eleven, with her cheque in her purse, Julia decided bitterly that she washed her hands of them all; she was done with San Francisco's smart set, she would never give another thought to a single one of them.