The Alexander Toland Neighbourhood House, familiarly known by all who had anything to do with it as The Alexander, was small, as neighbourhood houses go, but exceptionally pretty and complete, and financially so well backed by a certain group of San Francisco's society women as to be entirely free from the common trouble of its kind. Miss Toland had built it, and had made it her personal business to interest some of her friends in its success, but she now found herself confronted by an unexpected problem: it seemed impossible to get an experienced woman as resident worker with whom Miss Toland could live in peace. The few women who had been qualified to try the position had all swiftly, quietly, and firmly resigned, with that pained reticence that marks the trained worker. Miss Toland told her committees, with good-humoured tolerance, that Miss Smith or Mrs. Brown had been a splendid person, perfectly splendid, but unable to understand the peculiar conditions that made social work in San Francisco utterly—and totally—different from social work elsewhere. Meanwhile, she did the best she could with volunteer workers, daily bewailing the fact that, without the trained worker, her girls' clubs and classes, her boys' and mothers' clubs, had been difficult to start, and maintained but a languishing existence. She was a sanguine woman, and filled with confidence in the eventual success of The Alexander, and with energy to push it toward a completely fruitful existence, but she herself was inexperienced, and Julia had chanced upon her in a thoroughly discouraged mood.
Julia's first aid—in climbing through a transom and opening a stubborn door—being entirely successful, Miss Toland kept her to show her the little establishment, and was secretly soothed and pleased by the girl's delight.
The front door opened into a wide square hall, furnished with neat Mission chairs and tables, and with a large brown rug. There were two doors on each side, and a large double door at the back. One door on the right led to a model kitchen, floored in bright blue-and-white linoleum, and with a shining stove, a shining dresser full of blue-and-white china, a tiled sink, a table, and two chairs. The other right-hand door opened into a little committee room, where there were wall closets full of ginghams and boxes of buttons and braid, and more Mission furniture. On the left each door opened into a bedroom, one occupied by Miss Toland and littered by her possessions, one empty and immaculate. The two were joined by a shining little bath. Julia looked at the white bed in the unoccupied room, the white bureau, the white chairs, the white dotted curtains at the windows, the dark-blue rugs on a painted floor, and a gasp of honest admiration broke from her. Miss Toland gave her a quick approving glance, but said nothing.
Through the big double door they stepped straight on the stage that filled one end of the tiny auditorium, Miss Toland touching an electric button that flooded the room with light, for Julia's benefit. There were wide windows, curtained in crisp dotted white, all about the hall, and a door at the far end that gave, as Julia afterward learned, on a side street. An upright piano was on the stage, and at one side a flight of three or four steps led down to the hall. The main floor was broken by tables and benches, a hundred sewing bags of blue linen hung on numbered hooks on the wall, and at the far end there were two deep closets for kindergarten materials and sewing supplies.
The tour of inspection was ended in the kitchen, where Miss Toland put several paper bags on the table, dropped into a chair, and asked Julia also to be seated.
"Well, what do you think of it?" she said, reaching behind her to get a knife from a drawer. With the knife she cut a spongy crust from a loaf of bread, without fairly withdrawing it from the bag, and subtracting a thin pink slice of ham from some oiled paper in another bag, she folded it into the crust and began to eat it. "I picnic here—when I come," said Miss Toland, unembarrassed. "You've had your dinner?"
"Oh, yes," said Julia, "but do let me—" And without further words she took two plates from the dresser, served the ham neatly, cut a slice or two of bread, and removed the bags.
"Ah, yes, that's much better!" Miss Toland said. "There's tea there. I suppose you couldn't manage a cup?"
A deep and peculiar pleasure began to thrill through Julia. She stepped to the entrance hall, laid aside her hat and jacket, and returned to set about tea-making with deftness and quickness. She found a wilted slice of butter in a safe, and set out cups and sugar beside it. Miss Toland stopped eating, and watched these preparations with great satisfaction. Presently she stood up to pin her handsome silk-lined skirt about her hips, and pushed her face veil neatly above the brim of her hat. The water in the white enamelled kettle boiled, and Julia made tea in a blue Japanese pot.
"This is much better!" said Miss Toland again. "I get to be a perfect barbarian—eating alone!" She rummaged in a closet. "Here's some jam Sally sent," said she, producing it. "They are always sending me pies and fresh eggs and jelly; they are always afraid of my starving to death."
They began the meal again, and this time Julia joined her hostess, and really enjoyed her tea and bread and jam. It was dark now, and they drew the shades at the two street windows and turned on the electric light. Julia knew by some instinct that she need not be afraid of the gray-haired, eccentric, kindly woman opposite; in that very hour she assumed a maternal attitude that was to be the key to her relationship with Miss Toland for many years. The two, neither realizing it, instantly liked each other. Never in her rather reserved little life had Julia shown her heart as she showed it in this hour over the teacups.
"So you like it?" said Miss Toland. "It's small, but it's the most complete thing of the kind in the State. I've been scrambling along here as best I might for three months, but as soon as I get a resident head worker, we'll get everything straightened out." She gave her nose a sudden rub with her hand, frowned in a worried fashion.
"Girls—regularly appointed girls ought to take care of all this!" she went on, indicating the kitchen with a wave of her hand. "But no! You can't get them to systematize! Now I tell you," she added sternly, "I am going to lay down the law in this house! They do it in other settlement houses, and it shall be done here! Every yard of gingham, every thimble and spool of thread, is going to be accounted for! Do you suppose that at the Telegraph Hill House they allow the children to run about grabbing here and grabbing there—poh! They'd laugh at you!"
"Of course," said Julia vaguely.
"Classes of the smaller girls should keep this kitchen and bathroom like a pin," said Miss Toland sharply. "And, as soon as we get a regular manager in here—Now that's what I tell my sister Sally, that is Mrs. Toland," she broke off to say. "Here's Barbara, home from a finishing school and six months abroad. Why couldn't she step in here? But no! Barbara'll come in now and then if it's a special occasion—"
"But she has such wonderful good times at home; she has everything in the world now," Julia said wistfully. Miss Toland gave her a shrewd glance; it was as if she saw Julia for the first time.
"Barbara?" Barbara's aunt poured herself another cup of tea, and fell into thought for a few moments. Then she set down her cup, straightened herself suddenly, and burst forth: "Barbara! That's one of the most absurd things in the world, you know—the supposition that a girl like Barbara is perfectly happy! Perfectly wretched and discontented, if you ask me!"
"Oh, no!" Julia protested.
"Oh, yes! Barbara's idle, she's useless, she doesn't know what to do with herself. No girl of her age does. I know, for my mother brought me up in the same way. She got a lot of half-baked notions in school; she had a year of college in which to get a lot more; she came home afraid to go back to college for fear of missing something at home, afraid of staying home for fear of missing something at college; compromised on six months in Europe. Now, here she is, the finished product. We've been spending twelve years getting Barbara ready for something, and, as a result, she's ready for nothing! What does she know of the world? Absolutely nothing! She's never for one instant come in contact with anything real—she can't. She's been so educated that she wouldn't know anything real if she saw it! Mind you," said Miss Toland, fixing the somewhat bewildered Julia with a stern eye, "mind you, I admit it's hard for people of income to bring a girl up sensibly. 'But,' I've said to my sister-in-law, 'hand me over one of the younger girls—I'll promise you that she'll grow up something more than a poor little fashionably dressed doll, looking sidewise out of her eyes at every man she meets, to see whether he'll marry her or not!' Of course there's only one answer to that. I've never married, and I don't know anything about it!"
"Miss Toland will marry," Julia submitted.
"Perhaps she will," her aunt said. "Perhaps, again, she won't. But at all events, it's a rather flat business, all this rushing about to dinners and dances; it'll last a few years perhaps—then what? I tell you what, my dear, there's only one good thing in this world, and that's work—self-expression. It hurts my pride every time I see a nice girl growing older year after year, idle, expensive, waiting for some man to miraculously happen along and take her out of it. I tell you the interesting lives are those of people who've had to work up from the bottom. A working girl may have her troubles, but they're real. Why, let's suppose that Barbara marries, that she marries the man her mother has picked out, for example, still she doesn't get away from the tiring, the sickening conventions that all her set has laid down for her! I wish I had my own girlhood to live over—I know that!" finished the older woman, with a gloomy nod.
"Miss Toland seems to me to have everything in the world," Julia said, in childish protest. "She's—she's beautiful, and every one loves her. She's always been rich enough to do what she pleased, and go places, and wear what she liked! And—and"—Julia's eyes watered suddenly—"and she's a lady," she added unsteadily. "She's always been told how to do things, she's—she's different from—from girls who have had no chances, who—"
Her voice thickened, speech became too difficult, and she stopped, looking down at her teacup through a blur of tears. Miss Toland watched her for a silent moment or two; despite all her oddities, no woman who ever lived had a kinder heart or a keener insight than Anna Toland. It was in a very winning tone that she presently said:
"Tell me a little something about yourself, Miss Page!"
"Oh, there's nothing interesting about me!" Julia said, ashamed of showing emotion. She jumped up, and began to put the kitchen in order. But the recital came, nevertheless, beginning with Chester, and ending with Julia's earliest memories of the O'Farrell Street house. The girl tumbled it out regardless of sequence, and revealing far more than she knew. Julia told of the episode of Carter Hazzard; she repeated the conversation she had overheard at the club.
Miss Toland did not once interrupt her; she listened in an appreciative silence. They washed and put away the dishes, straightened the kitchen, and finally found themselves standing in the reception room, Julia still talking.
".... so you see why it sounds so funny to me, your talking about your niece," Julia said. "Because she—she seems to me such miles ahead—she seems to have everything I would like to have!" She paused, and then said awkwardly: "I'll never be a lady, I know that. I—I wish I had a chance to be!"
And she sat down at the little Mission table, and flung her arms out before her, her face tired and wretched, her blue eyes dark with pain. Miss Toland's face, from showing mere indulgent interest, took on a sharper look. She was a quick-witted woman, and this chanced to touch her in a sensitive spot.
"As for a lady, ladies are made and not born," she said decidedly. "Don't ever let them fool you. Barbara may run around until she's tired talking about belonging to the Daughters of Southern Officers; she can stick a sampler up here, and lend a Copley portrait to a loan exhibition now and then; but you mark my words, Barbara had to learn things like any other girl. One sensible mother in this world is worth sixteen distinguished great-grandmothers!"
Julia said nothing; she began to think it was time for her to go. But Miss Toland was well launched in a favourite argument.
"Why, look here," said the older woman, who was enjoying herself, "you're young, you're pretty, you're naturally inclined to choose what is nice, what is refined. You say you're not a lady—how do you know? You may take my word for it—Julia, your name is?—Julia, then, that if you make up your mind to be one, nothing can stop you. Now I've been thinking while we talked. Why couldn't you come here and try this sort of thing? You could keep things running smoothly here; you could work into the girls' clubs, perhaps; no harm to try, anyway. Do you sing?"
Julia had to clear her throat before she could say huskily:
"I can play the piano a little."
"You see—you play. Well, what do you think of it, then?"
"Live here?" stammered Julia.
"Certainly, live right here. I want some one right here with me. You can arrange your own work, you can read all the books you want, you'll come in contact with nice people. I'm afraid to be here alone at night very much, and I've come to the conclusion that we'll never accomplish anything until I can stay, day out and in. Why don't you try it, anyway? Telephone your grandmother—sleep right here to-night!"
Julia struggled for absolute control of her facial muscles.
"Here?" she asked, a little thickly.
"Right in here—you can but try it!" Miss Toland urged, throwing open the door of the immaculate, unused bedroom. Julia looked again at the fresh white bed, the rug, the bureau. Her own—her own domain! Just what entering it meant to her she never tried to say, but the moment was a memorable one in her life. She presently found herself telephoning a message to the drug store that was nearest her grandmother's home. She selected a flannelette nightgown from a deep drawer marked: "Nightgowns and petticoats—Women's." She assured Miss Toland that she could buy a toothbrush the next day, and when the older woman asked her how she liked her bath in the morning, Julia said very staidly: "Warm, thank you."
"Warm? Well, so do I," said Miss Toland's approving voice from the next room. "This business of ice-cold baths! Fad. There's a gas heater in the kitchen."
Julia, laying her underwear neatly over a chair, was struck by the enormity of the task she had undertaken. A great blight of utter discouragement swept over her—she never could do it! Her mother—all her kin—seemed to take shadowy shape to menace this little haven she had found. Chester—suppose he should find her! Suppose Mark should! Sooner or later some one must discover where she was.
And clothes! These clothes would not do! She had no money; she must borrow. And how was she to help in sewing classes and cooking classes, knowing only what she knew?
".... said to her as nicely as I could, but firmly," Miss Toland was saying, above the rasp of a running faucet in the bathroom, '"Well, my dear Miss Hewitt, you may be a trained worker and I'm not, but you can't expect your theories to work under conditions—'"
"What a bluffer I am," thought Julia, getting into bed. She snapped her light off, but Miss Toland turned it on again when she came to the door to look at Julia with great satisfaction.
"Comfortable, my dear?"
"Oh, yes, thank you."
"Have you forgotten to open your window?"
Julia raised herself on an elbow.
"Well, I believe I have," said she.
Miss Toland flung it up.
"We're as safe as a church here," she said, after a moment's study of the street. "Sometimes the Italians opposite get noisy, but they're harmless. Well, I'm going to read—you'll see my light. Sleep tight!"
"Thank you," said Julia.
Miss Toland went back to her room, and Julia, wide awake, lay staring at her own room's pure bare walls, the triangle of light that fell in the little passageway from Miss Toland's reading lamp, and the lights in the street outside. Now and then a passing car sent lights wheeling across her ceiling like the flanges of a fan; now and then a couple of men passing just under her window roused her with their deep voices, or a tired child's voice rose up above the patter of footsteps like a bird's pipe in the night. Cats squalled and snarled, and fled up the street; a soprano voice floated out on the night air:
"But the waves still are singing to the shore As they sang in the happy days of yore—"
To these and a thousand less sharply defined noises, to the constant, steady flicking of stiff pages in Miss Toland's room, Julia fell asleep.
Miss Toland told her family of the arrangement some three months later. She met her sister-in-law and oldest niece downtown for luncheon one day in November, and when the ladies had ordered their luncheon and piled superfluous wraps and parcels upon a fourth chair, Barbara, staring about the Palm Room, and resting her chin on one slender wrist, asked indifferently:
"And how's The Alexander, Aunt Sanna?"
"Why don't you come and see?" asked her aunt briskly. "You've all deserted me, and I don't know whether I'm on speaking terms with you or not! We're getting on splendidly. Nineteen girls in our Tuesday evening club; mothers' meetings a great success. I've captured a rare little personality in Julia."
She enlarged upon the theme: Julia's industry, her simplicity, her natural sympathy with and comprehension of the class from which the frequenters of The Alexander were drawn. Mrs. Toland listened smilingly, her bright eyes roving the room constantly. Barbara did not listen at all; she studied the scene about her sombrely, with heavy-lidded eyes.
Barbara was at an age when exactly those things that a certain small group of her contemporaries did, said, and thought, made all her world. She wished to be with these young people all the time; she wished for nothing else, to-day she was heartsick because there was to be a weekend house party to which she was not invited. A personal summons from the greatest queen of Europe would have meant nothing to Barbara to-day, except for its effect upon the little circle she desired so eagerly to impress. Parents, sisters, and brothers, nature, science, and art, were but pale shapes about her. The burning fact was that Elinor Sparrow had asked the others down for tennis Saturday and to stay overnight, and had asked her, Barbara, to join them on Sunday for luncheon—
"Tell Aunt Sanna about the wedding, dear!" commanded Mrs. Toland suddenly. Barbara smiled with mechanical brightness.
"Oh, it was lovely! Every one was there. Georgie looked stunning—ever so much prettier than Hazel!" she said, rather lifelessly.
"Tell Aunt Sanna who got the bride's bouquet!"
"Oh," Barbara again assumed an expression of animation. "Oh, I did."
"Oh, yes, he went with the Russells. That's getting to be quite a case, you know," Barbara said airily.
"I thought that was Elinor Sparrow and her mother," Mrs. Toland said, bowing to two ladies who were now at some distance, and were leaving the room. "They were at that table, but I couldn't be sure who they were until they got up."
"Was Elinor right there?" Barbara asked quickly.
"Why, yes; but as I say—"
Barbara pushed back her broiled bird with a gesture of utter exasperation.
"I think you might have said something about it, Mother," she said, angry and disappointed.
"Why, my darling," Mrs. Toland began, fluttered, "how could I dream—besides, as I say, I couldn't see—"
"You knew how I felt about Saturday," Barbara said bitterly, "and you let them sit there an hour! I could have turned around—I could have—"
"Listen to Mother, dear. You—"
"And I can't understand why you wouldn't naturally mention it," Barbara interrupted, in a high, critical voice. Tears trembled into her eyes. "I would have given a great deal to have seen Elinor to-day," she said stiffly.
Mrs. Toland, smitten dumb with penitence, could only eye her with sympathy and distress.
"Listen, dear," she suggested eagerly, after a moment. "Suppose you run out and see Elinor in the cloakroom? Mother's so sorry she—"
"No, I couldn't do that," Barbara answered moodily. "It would have been all right to have it just seem to happen—No, it doesn't make any difference, Mother. Please—please—don't bother about it."
"I'm sure Elinor didn't see you," Mrs. Toland continued. Barbara, throwing her a glance of utter weariness, begged politely:
"Please don't bother about it, Mother. Please. I'd rather not."
"Well," Mrs. Toland conceded, with dissatisfaction. An uncomfortable silence reigned, until Miss Toland began suddenly to talk of Julia.
"She's a very unusual girl," said she. "She's utterly and entirely satisfactory to me."
"I think you're very fortunate, Sanna," Mrs. Toland commented absently. She speculated a little as to Julia; there really must be something unusual about the girl; Sanna was notoriously difficult to live with.
"She's not stiff—she's amenable to reason," Miss Toland said, smiling vaguely. "We—we have really good times together."
"I hope she's improved in appearance," Mrs. Toland remarked severely. "You remember how dreadfully she looked, Barbara?"
Barbara smiled, half lifted dubious brows, and shrugged slightly.
"She's enormously improved," Miss Toland said sharply. "She wears an extremely becoming uniform now."
"She's evidently got your number, Auntie," Barbara said, watching three young men who were entering the room. "She evidently knows that you're nutty about appearances!"
"I am not nutty about appearances at all," her aunt responded, as she attacked an elaborate ice. "I like things done decently, and I like to see Julia in her nice, trim dresses. That Eastern woman I tried, Miss Knox, wouldn't hear of wearing a uniform—not she! Julia has more sense."
"I expect that Julia hasn't an idea in her head that you haven't put there," Barbara said dryly.
"Don't you believe it!" her aunt said with fire. She seemed ready for further speech, but interrupted herself, and was contented with a mere repetition of her first words, "Don't you believe it."
"Your geese are all swans, Sanna," Mrs. Toland said, with a tolerant smile.
"Very likely," Miss Toland said briefly, drinking off her black coffee at a draught. "Now," she went on briskly, "where are you good people going? Julia's to meet me here in the Turkish Room at two; we have to pick out a hundred books, to start our library."
"It's after that now," Barbara said. "She's probably waiting. Let's go out that way, Mother, and walk over to Sutter?"
They sauntered along the wide passage to the Turkish Room, and just before they reached it a young woman came toward them, a slender, erect person, under whose neatly buttoned long coat showed the crisp hem of a blue linen dress. Julia bowed briefly to the mother and daughter, but her eyes were only for Miss Toland. She was nervous and constrained; bright colour had come into her cheeks; she could not speak. But Barbara merely thought that the cheap little common actress had miraculously improved in appearance and manner, and noted the blue, blue eyes, and the glittering sweep of hair under Julia's neat hat, and Miss Toland felt herself curiously touched by the appealing look that Julia gave her.
"Now for the books, Julia," said she, beaming approval. The two went off together, chattering like friends and equals.
"What does Aunt Sanna see in her?" marvelled Barbara, watching.
"Your aunt is peculiar," Mrs. Toland said, with vague disapproval, compressing her lips.
"Well, the way she runs The Alexander is curious, to say the least," Barbara commented vigorously. "I couldn't stay out there one week, myself, and have Aunt Sanna carrying on the way she does, planning a thing, and forgetting it in two seconds, and yelling at the children one day, and treating them to ice-cream the next! Why, the last time I went out there Aunt Sanna was in bed, at eleven o'clock, because she felt like reading, and she'd called off the housekeeping class for no reason at all except that she didn't feel like it!"
"Yes, I know, I know," Mrs. Toland said, picking her way daintily across Market Street. "But she has her own money, and I suppose she'll go her own gait!" But she looked a little uneasy, and was silent for some moments, busy with her own thoughts.
Long before this Julia's whereabouts had been discovered by her own family, and by at least one of her friends, Mark Rosenthal. Mark walked in upon her one Sunday afternoon, when she had been about a month at The Alexander. Miss Toland had gone for a few hours to Sausalito, and Julia was alone, and had some leisure. She put on her hat, and she and Mark walked through the noisy Sunday streets; everybody was out in the sunshine, and saloons everywhere were doing a steady business.
"Evelyn told me where you were," Mark explained. Julia made a little grimace of disapproval, and the man, watching her, winced.
"Are you so sorry to have me know?" he asked, a sword in his heart.
"Oh, it's not that, Mark! But"—Julia stammered—"but I only went home to see grandma Thursday, and it struck me that Evelyn hadn't lost much time!"
"Wouldn't you ever have written me?" Mark asked, his dark eyes caressing her.
"Oh, of course I would. Only I wanted to get a start first. Why do you laugh?" Julia broke off to ask offendedly.
"Just because I love you so, darling. Just because I've been hungry for you all these weeks—and it's just ecstasy to be here!" Mark's eyes were moist now, though he was still smiling. "You don't know it, but I just live to see you, Julie. I can't think of anything else. This—this new job isn't going to make any difference about our marrying, is it, darling?"
Julia surveyed a stretch of dirty street lined with dirty yet somewhat pretentious houses. Women sat on drifts of newspapers on the steps, white-stockinged children quarrelled in the hot, dingy dooryards.
"I wish you didn't care that way, Mark," she said, uncomfortably.
"Why, dearest?" he said eagerly. "Because I care more for you than you do for me? I know that, Julie." He watched the cool little cheek nearest him. "But wait until we're married, Julie, you'll love me then; I'll make you!"
But all his young fire could not touch her. He could only win an occasional troubled glance.
"I want to stay here a long, long time, you know, Mark—if I can. I want to read things and study things. I want to be let alone. It'll be years before I want to marry!" Julia raised her anxious, harassed eyes to his. "I don't really think of men or of marriage at all," said she.
"Well, that's all right, darling," Mark said, smiling down at her, a little touched. "I'm going to be sent up to Sacramento for a while; I'll not worry you. But see here, if I go back to the house with you again, do I get a kiss?"
Julia gave him a grave smile, and let him follow her into the settlement house. But Mark did not get his kiss, for Miss Toland was there, and a group of eager club girls who had something to arrange for a meeting the following night. Mark left the lady of his delight staidly discussing the relative merits of lemonade and gingersnaps and two pounds of "broken mixed" candy, as evening refreshments, and carried away a troubled heart. He wrote Julia, at least twice a week, shyly affectionate and honestly egotistical letters, but it was some months before he saw her again.
Julia's visit to her grandparents, through which Mark had been able to trace her, had taken place some days before, on a certain Wednesday afternoon. Suddenly, after the daily three o'clock sewing class had had its meeting in the big hall, the thought had come to her that she must see her own people. It was a still autumn afternoon, a little chilly, and Julia, setting forth, felt small relish for her errand.
Her grandmother's house presented a dingy, discouraging front. Julia twisted the familiar old bell, and got the familiar old odours of carbolic acid and boiling onions, superimposed upon a basis of thick, heavy, stale air. But the hour she spent in the dirty kitchen was nevertheless not an unpleasant one. Her grandmother was all alone, and was too used to similar vagaries on the part of all her family to resent Julia's disappearance and long silence.
"We had your postal," she admitted, in answer to her granddaughter's embarrassed query. "You look thin, me dear; you've not got your old bold, stylish look about you."
And she wrinkled her old face and studied Julia with blinking eyes. "The girls was glad enough to use your dresses. Marguerite looked real nice in the one she took. Your Mama wrote in to know what kind of a job you had—Sit down, Julia," she said as she poked about the stove with a lid lifter.
Julia, who had drawn a long breath to recount her experiences, suddenly expelled it. It occurred to her, with a great relief, that her grandmother was not interested in details. Her hard life had left her no curiosity; she was only mildly satisfied at finding her granddaughter apparently prosperous and well; Mrs. Cox was never driven to the necessity of borrowing trouble.
Julia learned that her own father and mother were in Los Angeles, where George was looking for employment. Evelyn had developed a sudden ambition to be a dressmaker, Marguerite had a new admirer. Pa, Mrs. Cox said, was awful cross and cranky. Julia, with a premonition of trouble, asked for Chester.
"He's fine; he's the only one Pa'll speak to," her grandmother said, unexpectedly.
"Oh," said Julia eagerly, "he's here?"
"Sure, he come back," Mrs. Cox assured her indifferently. "He's got good work."
Walking home in the early darkness, Julia could have danced for very lightness of heart. She had dreaded the call, dreaded their jealousy of her new chance, dreaded the possibility of their wishing to share the joys of The Alexander with her. She found them entirely uninterested in her problems, and entirely absorbed in themselves. Marguerite remarked that she did not see why Julia "let them make" her wear the plain linen uniform of which Julia was secretly so proud. Evelyn was fretting because dressmakers' apprentices could depend upon such very poor pay, and vouchsafed Julia a moment's attention only when Julia observed that the Tolands patronized a very fashionable dressmaker, and might say a good word to her for Evelyn. This excited Evelyn very much, and she suggested that perhaps she herself had better see Miss Toland.
"No—no! I'll do it," Julia said hastily.
Mrs. Cox, upon her departure, extended her granddaughter a warm invitation.
"If they don't treat you good, dearie, you come right back here and Grandma'll take good care of you," said she, and Evelyn and Marguerite, eying Julia over their cups of tea, nodded half pityingly. They thought it a very poor job that did not permit one to come home to this kitchen at night, even less desirable than their own despised employments. Julia's being kept at night only added one more item to the long total that made the helplessness of the poor. It was as if Julia, dancing back to The Alexander in the early darkness, hugged to her heart the assurance that these kinswomen were as contentedly independent of her as she of them.
These experiences belonged to early days at The Alexander. There were other experiences, hours of cold discouragement and doubt, hours of bitter self-distrust. Julia trembled over mistakes, and made a hundred mistakes of which she never knew. But by some miracle, she never chanced to offend her erratic superior. To Miss Toland there was small significance in the fact of an ill-cut pattern or a lost key. At the mothers' meetings, when Julia was dismally smitten with a sense of her own uselessness, Miss Toland thought her shy little attempts at friendliness very charming, and when she casually corrected the faults of Julia's speech, she gave no further thought to the matter, although Julia turned hot and cold at the recollection for many a day to come.
Julia never made any objection, never hinted by so much as a reproachful eyelid, that Miss Toland's way of doing things was not that usually adopted. Julia would show her delight when a shopping tour and a lunch downtown were substituted for a sewing lesson; she docilely pushed back her boiling potatoes and beef stew when Miss Toland was for delaying supper while they went out to buy a waffle iron, and made some experiments with batter. On three or four mornings each week there were no classes, and on these mornings the two loitered along over their coffee and toast, Miss Toland talking, Julia a passionately interested listener. Perhaps the older woman would read some passage from Meredith or de Balzac, after which Julia dipped into Meredith for herself, but found him slow, and plunged back into Dickens and Thackeray. It amused Miss Toland to watch her read, to have Julia burst out, with flaming cheeks:
"Oh, I hope Charles Darney won't be such a fool as to go to Paris now—oh, does he?" or:
"You wouldn't catch me marrying George Osborne—a spoiled, selfish pig, that's what he is!"
So the months went by, and the day came when Julia, standing shyly beside Miss Toland, said smilingly:
"Do you know what day this is, Miss Toland?"
"To-day?" Miss Toland said briskly. "No, I don't. Why?"
"I've been here a year to-day," Julia said, dimpling.
"You have?" Miss Toland, handling bolts of pink-and-white gingham at a long table, straightened up to survey her demure little assistant. "Well, now I'll tell you what we'll do to celebrate," she said, after a thoughtful interval. "I understand that the Sisters over on Lake Merritt have a very remarkable sewing school. Now, we ought to see that, Julia, don't you think so?"
"We might get some ideas," Julia agreed.
"Precisely. So you put the card—'No Classes Today'—on the door, and we'll go. And put your milk bottle out, because we may be late. I hate to do it, but I really think we should know what they're doing over there."
"I do, too," Julia said. This form preceded most of their excursions. A few moments later they were out in the open air, with the long sunny day before them.
The months sped on their way again, and Julia had been in the settlement two years—three years. She was eighteen, and the world did not stand still. She was nineteen—twenty. She changed by slow degrees from the frightened little rabbit that had fled to Miss Toland for refuge to an observant, dignified young woman who was quietly sure of herself and her work. The rumpled ashen glory that had been her hair was transformed into the soft thick braids that now marked Miss Page's head apart from those of the other girls of her day. The round arms were guiltless of bracelets; Julia wore her severe blue uniform, untouched by any ornament; her stockings and shoes were as plain as money could buy.
Her beauty, somewhat in eclipse for a time, presently shone out again. But there were few to see it. Miss Watts, the simple, sweet, middle-aged teacher of the kindergarten, admired it wistfully, and Miss Toland watched it with secret pride. But the society girls and young matrons who flitted in once or twice a week to teach their classes never saw it at all, or, seeing it, merely told each other that little Miss Page would be awfully pretty in decent things, and the women and girls and children who formed the classes at The Alexander never saw her at all. The women were too much absorbed in their own affairs, children are proverbially blind to beauty, and the girls who came to the monthly dances, the evening sewing classes and reading clubs, thought their sober little guardian rather plain, as indeed she was, when judged by their standard of dress, their ruffled lace collars and high-heeled shoes, their curls and combs and coloured glass jewellery.
Julia's amazing detachment from the ordinary ideals of girlhood was an unending surprise to Miss Toland.
"She has simply and quietly set that astonishing little mind of hers upon making herself a lady," Miss Toland said now and then to her sister-in-law. Mrs. Toland would answer with only an abstracted smile. If she had any convictions at all in her genial view of life, she certainly believed a lady to be a thing born, not made. But she was not concerned about Julia; she hardly realized the girl's existence.
Miss Toland, however, was keenly concerned about Julia. Julia had come to be the absorbing interest of her life. It was quite natural that Julia should love her, yet to the older woman it always seemed a miracle, tremulously dear. That any one so young, so lovely, so ardent as Julia should depend so utterly upon her was to Anna Toland an unceasing delight. Julia had been bewildered and heartsick when she turned to The Alexander, but she had never in her life known such an aching loneliness as had been Miss Toland's fate for many years. To such a nature the solitary years in Paris, the solitary return to California, the tentative and unencouraged approaches to her nieces, all made a dark memory. Rich as she was, independent and popular as she was, Miss Toland's life had brought her nothing so sweet as this young thing, to teach, to dominate, to correct, and to watch and delight in, too. As Julia's grammar and manner and appearance rapidly improved, Miss Toland began to exploit her, in a quiet way, and quietly gloried in the girl's almost stern dignity. When the members of the board of directors were buzzing about, Julia, with her neatly written report, was a little study in alert and silent efficiency.
"She's a cute little thing," said Mrs. von Hoffmann, president of The Alexander Toland Neighbourhood House, after one of these meetings of the board, "but she never has much to say."
"No, she's a very silent girl," Miss Toland agreed, with that little warmth at her heart the thought of Julia always brought.
"You imported her, Sanna?"
"Oh, no. She's a Californian."
"Really? And what do we pay her?"
"Forty? And didn't we pay that awful last creature sixty-five?"
"Seventy-five—yes." Miss Toland smiled wisely. "But she had been specially trained, Tillie."
"Oh, specially trained!" Mrs. von Hoffmann, flinging a mass of rich sables about her throat, began to work on the fingers of her white gloves. "This girl's worth two of her," she asserted, "with her nice little silent ways and her little uniform!"
"I'll see that she's treated fairly," Miss Toland promised.
"Well, do! Don't lose her, whatever you do! I suppose she has beaus?"
"Not Julia! She's entirely above the other sex. No; there's a young Jew in Sacramento who writes her now and then, but that's a mere boy-and-girl memory."
"Well, let's hope it remains one!" And the great lady, sailing out to her waiting coupe, stopped on the outer steps to speak to Miss Page, who was tying up some rain-beaten chrysanthemums in the little front garden.
"How crushed they are! Do you like flowers, Miss Page?"
"Oh, yes," smiled Julia, looking like a flower herself in the clear twilight.
"You must come and see Mr. von Hoffmann's orchids some day," Mrs. von Hoffmann volunteered. Julia smiled again, but did not speak. The older woman glanced up and down the desolate street, and shuddered. "Dreadful neighbourhood!" she said with a rueful smile and a shake of the head, and climbing into her carriage, she was gone. Julia looked about her, but found the neighbourhood only interesting and friendly, as usual, and so returned to her flowers.
When her chrysanthemums were trim and secure once more, perhaps—if this were one of the club evenings—she put on her long coat, and the hat with the velvet rose, and went upon a little shopping expedition, a brown twine bag dangling from one of her ungloved arms. The bakery was always bright and odorous, and at this hour filled with customers. The perspiring Swedish proprietress and a blond-haired daughter or two would be handling the warm loaves, the flat, floury pies, and the brown cookies as fast as hands could move; the cash register behind the counter rang and rang, the air was hot, the windows obscured with steam. Men were among the customers, but the Weber girls had no time to flirt now. They rustled the thin large sheets of paper, snapped the flimsy pink string, lifted a designated pie out of the window, or weighed pound cake with serious swiftness.
From the bakery Julia crossed an indeterminate street upon which shabby scattered houses backed or faced with utter disregard of harmony, and entered a dark and disorderly grocery, which smelled of beer and brooms and soap and stale cakes. Tired women, wrapped in shawls, their money held tight in bony, bare hands, sat about on cracker boxes and cheese crates, awaiting their turn to be served. A lamp, with a reflector, gave the only light. The two clerks, red-faced young men in their shirt sleeves, leaned on the dark counter as they took orders, listening with impatient good nature to whispered appeals for more credit, grinding coffee in an immense wheel, and thumping each loaf of bread as they brought it up from under the counter.
Julia, out in the street again and enjoying, as she always did enjoy, the sense of being a busy householder, facing the tide of home-goers, would perhaps have an errand in the damp depth of the big milk depot, would get chops or sausages at some small shop, or stop a fruit cart, driving by in the dimness, for apples or oranges.
Then home to the brightly lighted little kitchen, the tireless little gas stove. Julia, cheerfully attempting to do ten things at once, would look up to see Miss Toland, comfortably wrappered and corsetless, in the doorway.
"Don't forget your window shades, Julie."
"I know, but I wanted to get this oven started—if these sweets are to bake."
"Give me something to do!" And the older woman, seated, was pleased to cut bread and fill salt shakers at the request of her busy assistant. "To-night's the older girls, is it?" she would yawn. "Is Miss Pierce coming? Good! Well, tell me if you need me, and I'll dress and come out."
"Oh, we're not doing much to-night," Julia invariably assured her. Miss Toland never questioned the verdict that freed her for an evening of restful reading. Julia it was who lighted the hall and opened the street door, and welcomed the arriving club girls. Sometimes these young women brought their sewing—invariably fancywork. Sometimes there was a concert to rehearse, or they danced with each other, or stood singing about Julia at the piano while she banged away at the crude accompaniments of songs. Miss Pierce or Miss Watts, older women, usually came in for a little while to see what was going on, but again it was Julia alone who must bid the girls good-night and lock and darken the hall.
Once a month there was a dance for the older girls, to which their "friends," a word which meant to each girl her foremost male admirer, were asked, and at which cake and ice-cream were served. Julia always wore her uniform to these dances, but she also danced, when asked, and never attempted to deny that she enjoyed herself. But that there was an immense gulf already widening between her and these other girls, one of whom she might have been, she soon began to perceive. They were noisy, ignorant, coarse young creatures, like children unable to see beyond the pleasure or the discomfort of the day, unable to help themselves out of the sordid rut in which they had been born. Julia watched them soberly, silently, as the years went by. One by one they told her of their wedding plans, and introduced the boyish, ill-shaven, grinning lads who were to be husbands and fathers soon. One by one Julia watched the pitifully gay little weddings, in rooms poisonous with foul air and crowded with noisy kinspeople. One by one she welcomed old members of the Girls' Club as new members of the Mothers' Club. The young mother's figure would be curiously shapeless now, her girlish beauty swept away as by a sponge, her nervous pride in the beribboned baby weakened by her own physical weakness and clouded by the fear that already a second child's claim was disputing that of the first. And already her young voice would borrow some of the hopeless whining tones of the older women's.
Julia was really happiest in her relationship with the children. She frequently peeped into the kindergarten during the morning, and had her dearly loved favourites among the tiny girls and boys, and she could never be absent from the sewing class every afternoon when some forty small girls scattered themselves about the assembly hall, and chattered and sang as they worked. Volunteers from among the city's best families were usually on hand to inspect the actual sewing—vague, daintily dressed girls who alternately spoiled and neglected their classes, who came late and left early—but Julia kept order, supplied materials, recited the closing prayer, and played the marches by which the children marched out at five o'clock. Now and then she incited some small girl to sing or recite for the others, and two or three times a year the sewing classes gave an evening entertainment—extraordinary affairs at the memory of which Julia and Miss Toland used to laugh for weeks. To drill the little, indifferent, stupid youngsters in songs and dances, to spangle fifty costumes of paper cambric and tissue, to shout emphatic directions about the excited murmurings of the churning performers, to chalk marks on the stage, and mark piano scores, were all duties that fell to the two resident workers. Julia sacrificed her immaculate bedroom for a green room, the perspiration would stream from her face as she whipped off one dirty little frock after another, fastened the fairy regalia over unspeakable undergarments, and loosened sticky braids of black or yellow hair into something approaching a fairylike fluffiness. One second to straighten her own tumbled hair at a mirror, another to warn her carefully ranged performers in the passage, and Julia was off to light the hall and open the street door to the clamorous audience. Opening the performance with a crash of chords from the piano, fifteen minutes later, she would turn her face to the stage, that the singers might see her lips framing the words they were so apt to forget, and manage to keep a watchful eye upon the noisy group of boys that filled the back benches and the gaslights that might catch a fairy's spear or a witch's wand.
"Well, we've had some awful performances in the place, but really I think to-night's was about the worst!" Miss Toland might remark, when the last dirty little garment had been claimed by its owner, and the last fairy had reluctantly gone away.
"Well, the mothers and fathers thought it was fine," Julia would submit, with a weary grin.
"When that awful Cunningham child, with her awful, flat, slapping feet, began to dance the Highland Fling, I truly thought I would strangle, trying not to laugh!" Miss Toland, gazing absently over her book, would add reflectively.
"And the Queen of the Elves in those dirty pink stockings! And poor Hazel, bursting into tears as usual!" Julia, collapsed in a chair, dishevelled and rosy, would give a long sigh of relaxation and relief.
"But we don't do the slightest good this way," Miss Toland sometimes said with asperity. "We merely amuse them; it goes no further. Now, next time, we will make it an absolute condition that every child has a bath before coming, and wears clean clothes!"
"But we made that a condition this time, and it didn't do any good."
"Very well. Next time"—flushed at the merest hint of opposition, Miss Toland would speak with annoyance—"next time every child who hasn't had a bath will go straight into that tub, I don't care if the performance doesn't begin until midnight!"
"Well," Julia would concede tolerantly. She very speedily learned not to dispute these vigorous resolutions. Miss Toland always forgot them before morning; she would not have considered them seriously in any case.
"We are the laughing-stock of the city," she would frequently say with bitterness, upon being informed that more thimbles were needed, or that the girls hated to sew on the ugly gray ginghams. But sometimes Julia found her giving out candy and five-cent pieces, without regard for the girls' merits and achievements, for the mere pleasure of hearing their thanks.
Or sometimes, when for any reason the attendance upon the sewing classes was poor, Miss Toland bought herself a new blank book, dated it fiercely, and proceeded to ransack the neighbourhood for children in a house-to-house canvass. Julia and she would take a car into Mission Street, eat their dinner at the Colonial dining-room, where all sorts of wholesome dairy dishes were consumed by hungry hundreds every night, and where a white-clad man turned batter cakes in the window.
"They do that everywhere in New York," said Miss Toland, thereby thrilling Julia. "What, d'you like New York?" asked the older woman.
"I've never seen it!" Julia breathed.
"Well, some day we'll go on—study methods there. Spring's the time," said Miss Toland, raising gold-rimmed eyeglasses to study the grimy and spotted menu. "Spring afternoons on the Avenue, or driving in the Park—it's quite wonderful! I see they have chicken pie specially starred, thirty-five cents; shall we try that?"
After the meal the canvassing began, Miss Toland doing all the talking, while Julia stared about the small, stuffy interiors, and smiled at the babies and old women. Miss Toland jotted down in her book all the details she gathered in each house, and only stopped in her quest when the hour and the darkened houses reminded her that the evening was flying.
This might keep up every free evening for two weeks; it would end as suddenly as it began, and Miss Toland enter upon a lazy and luxurious phase. She would spend whole mornings and even afternoons in bed, reading and dozing, and fresh from a hot bath at four o'clock, would summon her assistant and make a suggestion or two.
"Julia, suppose we go down to the Palace for tea?"
Julia, standing gravely in the doorway, considered.
"The girls won't be gone for another hour, Miss Toland!"
"The—Oh, the girls, to be sure. Of course. Who else is there, Julia?"
"Miss Parker and Miss Chetwynde. And Mrs. Forbes Foster was here for a little while."
Miss Toland, drawing on silk stockings, would make a grimace.
"What did you tell them?"
"Oh, yes, quite right! Well, get through out there, and we'll go somewhere."
The assistant, about to depart, would hesitate:
"I have nothing to wear but my tailor-made and a white waist, Miss Toland."
"And quite good enough! No one will notice us."
Perhaps truly no one noticed the eagerly talking, middle-aged woman and her pretty and serious little companion, as they sat in a quiet corner of the big grill-room, eating their dinner, but Julia noticed everything, and even while she answered Miss Toland politely, her eyes were moving constantly to and fro. She watched the cellarer, in his leather apron, the well-dressed, chattering men and women who came and went; she drank in the warm, perfumed air as if it were the elixir of life. The music enchanted her, the big room with its lofty ceiling, its clustered lights and flowers, swam in a glorious blur before her.
Miss Toland would bow now and then, and tell Julia about the people to whom she bowed. Once they saw Doctor Studdiford laughing and talking at a distant table with a group of young men, and once it was Barbara, lovely in a blue evening gown, who came across the room to speak to her aunt.
"And hello, Julia!" said Barbara pleasantly, on this occasion, resting her armful of blue brocade and eiderdown upon a chair back. "It's awfully nice to see you two enjoying yourselves!"
"What are you doing, dear?" her aunt asked.
"Mrs. Maitland's party—and we're going to the Orpheum. I don't care much for vaudeville, though" And idly eying Julia, she added, "Do you, Julia?"
Julia's heart leaped, her mouth felt dry.
"I like plays," she stammered, trying to smile, and clearing her throat.
"Well, so do I." Barbara shrugged, gathered up her coat again, and drifted away. Julia heard nothing else that night but the kindly, insolent little voice that seemed to make a friend and equal of her, and when she was alone in bed in the dark, she went over and over the little scene again, and thrilled again at Barbara's graciousness.
Perhaps six times a year Miss Toland went to Sausalito for a few days, and then, during her first year as a settlement worker, Julia went to her grandmother's house. Evelyn was now working with Ryan, the Tolands' fashionable dressmaker, and doing extremely well. Marguerite was engaged to be married, and as foolishly happy as if her eyes had been fixed upon ideal unions since the days of her childhood. Nobody paid very much attention to Julia except Marguerite's promised husband, who disgusted her by hoarsely assuring her that she was a little peach, and attempting to kiss her. There were several letters from her mother, from which Julia learned that her father was well again, but that he had left her mother, who had entered, with a friend, upon the boarding-house business in Los Angeles. She wrote her mother an affectionate letter, and, after a few months, stopped going to her grandmother's house.
Miss Pierce, a delicate, refined, unmarried woman, was a daily teacher in the kindergarten, and grew very fond of the grave, demure, silent Miss Page. Julia felt enormously flattered when Miss Pierce suggested that she come home with her during one of Miss Toland's brief absences, and as merry, impulsive, affectionate little Miss Scott followed suit, she usually had the choice of two pleasant places in which to spend her holidays.
Miss Pierce lived with her old mother in a handsome upper flat on Broadway. Julia liked the quiet, dignified neighbourhood, and thought Mrs. Pierce a lovely old lady. She chattered with Adachi, the Japanese boy, tried the piano, whistled at the canary, and sat watching Mrs. Pierce's game of patience with the absorption of a rosy-cheeked, wide-eyed child. Miss Pierce, glancing up now and then from her needlework, thought it very nice to see pretty Miss Page there and Mamma so well amused, and wished that she had more inducements to offer her young guest. But Julia found the atmosphere, the quiet voices and quiet laughter, inducement enough, and quite touched Mrs. Pierce with her gratitude.
The first visit to Miss Scott's house, however, was a revelation, and the memory of it stood out in such bold colours as made the decorous pleasures of the visit to Miss Pierce turn pale. Julia was rushed into the centre of a group of eager, noisy, clever young people, six brothers and sisters who had been motherless from babyhood, and were in mourning now for their father. The Scotts were bold and outspoken in their grief as in everything else; they showed Julia their father's picture before she had been ten minutes in the house, and Kennedy—Julia's "Miss Scott" of The Alexander—flung open the big desk so violently as to bring two vases and a calendar to the floor, and read Julia various notes and letters that had been sent them at the time of their father's death, until tears stood in more than one pair of lovely black eyes. Dinner was somehow cooked in a Babel of voices, served in a rush, and afterward their chatter rose above the hissing of dishwater and the clash of hot plates. Julia laughed herself tired at the nonsense, the mad plans, and untrammelled dreams. Kennedy was to be a writer, 'Lizabeth the president of a girls' college, little Mary wanted to live in "Venith." The boys were all to be rich; Peter, the oldest, drew his brothers into a long, serious discussion as to the exact proportions of the ideal private car.
"We'll have the finish mahogany, d'ye see?" said Peter, "and the walls and curtains of dark green velvet."
"Dark green velvet!" Kennedy said, from the couch where she was sitting, busy with a torn sleeve lining. "Oh, horrors! Why not red velvet and gold braid!"
"Well, what would you have?" Peter asked belligerently.
"Oh, grayish blue velvet," 'Lizabeth suggested rapturously.
"Very pale, you know, and silvery curtains," Kennedy agreed, "and one gorgeous bluish-grayish-pinkish rug, like the two-thousand-dollar one at the White House!"
"Well," Peter said, satisfied. "And what colour upholstery?"
"Dark blue might be beautiful," Julia submitted timidly.
"Dark blue—you're on, Miss Page!"
"Or a sort of blue brocade," 'Lizabeth said dreamily.
"And I'll tell you what we'll name the cars," George, the second brother, suddenly contributed; "you know they've got to be named, Pete. We'll call the dining-car, 'Dinah,' and the sleeper, 'Bertha'; do you see?"
The others shouted approval, Peter adding with a grin, a moment later:
"And we might call the observation car 'Luke'!"
"Oh, Peter!" Kennedy expostulated, laughing. She presently interrupted the completing details of the private train by general suggestions of bed. The four girls went upstairs together.
"Oh, Mary, you've fixed everything, you little angel, you!" said Kennedy, seeing that hats and wraps had been put away, and a couch made up in a large shabby bedroom. 'Lizabeth, professing that she loved a couch, settled herself upon it with great satisfaction, Julia had a single bed, and Kennedy and the little Mary shared a somewhat larger one.
Julia watched the sisters with deep admiration; they were all tired, she knew, yet vigorous ablutions went on in the cold little bathroom, and clothes were brushed and made ready for to-morrow's need. Their joyous talk was pitifully practical, Mary raising the dread topic of new shoes for Stephen, the youngest, and Kennedy somewhat ruefully conceding that the shoes must be had, even at the cost of the needed gallon of olive oil.
"No salads for a month, and they're so cheap!" she mourned. "And that young terror seems to me to need shoes every week! Don't ever have sons, Miss Page, they're a heart scald wid the bould ways av thim! Stephen had nine pairs of shoes in eight months—that's true, isn't it, 'Lizabeth? For we were keeping accounts then—while Dad's will was in probate, we had to."
"A good thing to have a will to fall back on," said Julia.
"Even if we only inherited one hundred and sixteen dollars apiece," 'Lizabeth added.
"Dad had had losses—it wasn't any one's fault—everything went to smash," Kennedy supplemented instantly. "And of course when we found that Steve had been braking his coaster with his feet, that helped. But me—I'm going to have only girls—five darling little gray-eyed girls with brown hair!"
"I'd like a boy to start off with," 'Lizabeth said. "He could take his sisters to parties—"
"Yes, but they never do; they take other girls to parties!" the fifteen-year-old Mary said suddenly, and the older girls laughed together at her sapience.
"Peter has a girl," Kennedy said. "But naturally he won't desert the bunch. Next year, when some bills we simply couldn't help—"
"Doctor and nurse when George and Mary had typhoid," 'Lizabeth explained.
"—are paid off," Kennedy continued. "Then, if he still likes her, he might. But he never stays in love very long," she ended hopefully.
The four girls talked late into the night, and after a picnic the next day, a Sunday, Julia felt as if she loved them all, and she and Kennedy began shyly to call each other by their given names. Peter and George did not go on the picnic, having plans of their own for the day, but the others spent a dreamy day on Baker's Beach, and the two older boys, joining the group at dinner, ended the holiday happily. Julia carried away definite impressions to be brooded over in her quiet times. The Scotts were "ladies," of course. Somehow, although they were very poor, they all worked very hard, and all dressed very shabbily, they were "ladies," and knew only nice people. The sisters were really stronger and braver than the brothers, and loved their brothers more than they were loved. Julia wondered why. Also she came a little reluctantly to the conclusion, as girls at twenty, whether they be Julias or Barbaras, usually do, that if there were a great many nice young men in the world, there were a great many marriageable girls, too. No girl could expect a very wide choice of adorers, there were too many other girls. And affairs of the heart, and offers of marriage, occurred much more often in books than in life.
Two or three times a week Miss Toland liked to rise early and go to the beautiful eight o'clock mass at St. Anne's, the big institution for unfortunate girls that was not far from The Alexander Toland Neighbourhood House. There was no church in the immediate vicinity, and in asking for permission to come to the convent chapel, Miss Toland had felt herself doing no extraordinary thing, had felt almost within her rights.
But the good nuns in charge of St. Anne's had whetted her appetite for the experience by interposing unexpected objections. Their charges, they explained, about two hundred in number, were very impressionable, very easily excited. A stranger in the chapel meant a sensation. Of course, the lay workers of the institution and the old people from the Home across the way sometimes came in, but they were so soberly dressed. Perhaps if Miss Toland and Miss Page would dress in dark things, and assure Good Mother that they would not speak to the girls—
"Oh, certainly!" Miss Toland had agreed eagerly. Julia, awed by the airy, sombre interior of the great building, the closed doors, the far-away echoes of footsteps and subdued voices, was a little pale.
"And this is your little assistant?" said Good Mother, suddenly, turning a smile of angelic brightness upon Julia. "Well, come to mass by all means, both of you. And pray for our poor children, dear child; we are always in need of prayers."
"You must have extraordinary experiences here," Miss Toland said.
"And extraordinary compensations," said the nun. "Of course, some of our poor children are very wild—at first. We do what we can. I had a little pet of mine here until yesterday, Alice, ten years old; she is—"
"Ten!" ejaculated Miss Toland.
"Oh, yes, my dear! And younger; she was but eight when she came. What I was going to say was that her mother took her away yesterday, and Sister Philip Neri was amused to see how sad I was to have her go. She reminded me that when Alice first came here she had bitten my hand to the bone, so that I could not use it for three weeks. Ah, well!" And Good Mother gave the sweet toneless laugh of the religious. "That is not the worst of it—a clean bite on the hand!"
Miss Toland bought an alarm clock on the way home, and she and Julia went to early mass on the very next morning. Julia found this first experience an ordeal; she and Miss Toland were in a side pew before the big gong struck, and Julia did not raise her eyes from her book as the girls filed in. The steady rustle of frocks and shuffle of feet made her feel cold and sick.
A day or two later she could watch them, although never without profound emotion. Two hundred girls, ranging in years from ten to twenty, with roughly clipped hair, and the hideous gray-green checked aprons of the institution. Two hundred faces, sullen or vacuous, pretty, silly faces, hard faces, faces tragically hopeless and pale. These young things were offenders against the law, shut away here behind iron bars for the good of the commonwealth. Julia, whose life had made her wise beyond her years, watched them and pondered. Here was an almost babyish face; what did that innocent-looking twelve-year-old think of life, now that she had thrown her own away? Here was a sickly looking girl a few years older, coughing incessantly and ashen cheeked; why had some woman borne her in deathly anguish, loved her and watched her through the years that least need loving and watching? This thing that they had all done—this treasure they had all thrown away—what did they think about it?
She would come out very soberly into the convent garden, and walk home, through the delicious airs of a spring morning, without speaking, perhaps to break out, over her belated coffee:
"Oh, I think it's horrible—their being shut up there, the poor little things!"
"They have sensible work, plenty to eat, and they're safe," Miss Toland might answer severely. "And that's a great deal more than they deserve!"
"Nobody worried about them until it was too late," Julia suggested once, in great distress. "Lots of them never would have done anything wrong if they'd had work and food then!"
"Well, the nuns are very kind to them," Miss Toland answered comfortably; and Julia knew this was true, as far as possible.
One morning, when Julia slipped into her place in St. Anne's, she saw, two feet away from her, on an undraped trestle, a narrow coffin, and in the coffin the rigid form of a girl who had been prayed for a few mornings earlier as very ill. There was not a flower on the still, flat young breast, and no kindly artifice beautified the stern face or the bare, raw little hands that protruded from the blue-green gingham sleeves. The ruined little tenement that had served some man's pleasure and been flung aside lay there as little beholden to the world in death as it had been in life. And as if the usual silence of the chapel would be too hard to bear, the living girls chanted to-day the "Dies Irae" and the "Libera me."
When winter came, the little trestle was often in requisition, for the inmates of St. Anne's were ill-fitted to cope with any sickness. Once it was a nun, in her black robes, who lay there, her magnificent still face wearing its usual deep, wise smile, her tired hands locked about her crucifix. For her there were flowers, masses of flowers, and more than one black-robed priest, and a special choir, and Julia knew that the other nuns envied that one of their number who had gone on to other work in other fields.
She grew grave, who was always grave, thinking of these things, and talked them over with Kennedy Scott. Kennedy was deeply, even passionately, concerned for a while, and she and Julia decided to establish a home some day for girls who were still to be saved.
Time went very swiftly now: years were not as long as they used to be, one birthday was in sight of another. Sometimes Julia was astonished and a little saddened, as is the way of youth, at the realization of the flying months. She was busy, contented, beloved; she was accomplishing her ambition—but at what a cost of years! The great moment might come now at any time—Prince Charming might be on his way to her now, but meantime she must work and eat and sleep—and the birthdays came apace. Sometimes she grew very restless; this was not life! But a visit to her grandmother's house usually sent her back to The Alexander with fresh courage. No possible alternative offered itself anywhere.
Just at first she had hoped for inspiring frequent glimpses of her adored Tolands, but these were very few. Sometimes Barbara or the younger girls would come to Easter or Christmas entertainments at the settlement, but Julia, always especially busy on these occasions, saw no more than Barbara's pretty, bored face, framed in furs, across a room full of people, or returned a dignified good-bye to Sally's hasty, "Mother and the others have gone on, Miss Page; they asked me to say good-bye!" But then there was the prospect of a day with Kennedy Scott, to console her, or perhaps the reflection that little Mr. Craig, who came out on Tuesday evenings to the meetings of the Boys' Club, was in love with her. She did not wish to marry Mr. Craig, still it was nice of him to admire her; it was nice to have a new hat; it was pleasant to visit the San Jose convent, with Miss Toland, and be petted by the nuns. So Julia cheated herself, as youth forever cheats itself, with the lesser joys.
She went home for three or four days at the time of her father's death, and afterward deliberately decided not to accompany her mother on a trip south. Emeline had nine thousand dollars of life insurance, and thought of buying a half interest in a boarding-house in Los Angeles.
"All the theatrical trade goes there," said Emeline, "and you could get a berth as easy as not!"
"Yes, I know," Julia said, gently, concealing an inward shudder. She went quietly back to The Alexander, when the funeral was over, to her mother's disgust. Emeline did not go south, but lingered on at home, drinking tea and gossiping with her mother, quarrelling with her old father, and gradually eating into her bank account. She called upon her daughter, to Julia's secret embarrassment, though the girl introduced this overdressed, sallow, hard-eyed mother with what dignity she could muster to Miss Pierce, Miss Scott, and Miss Toland. Emeline laughed and talked with an air of ease, was forced into silence when Julia said the closing prayer, and burst out laughing at its close.
"That does sound so funny, dolling! But I mustn't laugh," said Emeline. "I'm sure you do wonders for these girls, and they need it," she added graciously to Miss Toland. She followed Julia into the little kitchen.
"Don't she help you cook?" she asked in a low tone, indicating Miss Toland with a jerk of her much-puffed head.
"Sometimes she does," Julia answered, annoyed.
"H'm!" Emeline said. And she asked curiously a moment later, "Why you do it is what gets me! Here's Marguerite going to get married, and Ev has an elegant job, and I want you to go south with me; you'd have a grand time!"
She stopped on a complaining note, her eyes honestly puzzled. Julia closed the oven door upon some potatoes, and stood up.
"I'm perfectly satisfied, Mama," said she briefly. "I'm doing what I want to do."
"Lord!" Emeline ejaculated, discontentedly, vaguely baffled by the girl's definiteness and dignity. She left soon after, Julia dutifully walking with her to her car. Miss Toland said nothing of the visitor when Julia came back, but she knew the girl was troubled, and lay awake a long time herself that night, conscious that Julia, in the next room, was restless and wakeful.
Besides a certain troubled consciousness of her failure to please her own people, Julia had in these years a more definite source of worry. Mark Rosenthal was still her patient adorer, and if, like Julia, he allowed the flying months to steal a march upon him, and drifted along in the comfortable conviction that "a little while" would bring a change in Julia's feeling, still he was none the less a watchful and ardent lover, with whom she sometimes found it very difficult to deal.
Mark, always tall, was broad as well now, an imposing big fellow, prosperous, shrewd, and self-confident. He had handsome dark eyes, and showed white teeth when he laughed; he dressed well, but not conspicuously; his shoes might be well worn, but they were always bright; and if his suit were shabby, still he was never without gloves. He liked to talk business; he had long ago given up his music and devoted himself with marvellous success to his work. He was no longer with the piano house, but had an excellent position as adjuster of damages, out of court, for one of the street railway companies. The history of his various promotions and his favour with his employers was absorbing to him; but the time came, when Julia was about twenty-two, when his determination to win her became a serious menace to her peace.
His manner, which had once been boyish and uncertain, was in these days good-humouredly proprietary. He laughed at little Julia's earnest explanations, and would answer her most eager appeal only with a lover's fond comment upon her eyes.
"Yes, darling, I wasn't listening—forgive me!" he said one day, when, with a spark of real anger, Julia had begged him to make his calls at the settlement house a little less frequent and less conspicuous. "What was it?" And with twinkling eyes he caught up the hand that lay near him on the table and kissed it.
"I want you not to do that, Mark," said Julia gravely, moving a little farther away, "and please don't call me darling!"
"All right, darling!" smiled Mark.
"I'm not joking," Julia said resentfully, two red spots in her cheeks.
Mark moved to lay his hand over hers penitently, and said, in the low, gentle voice Julia dreaded:
"Do you know what's the matter with you, Julie? I'll tell you. You love me and you won't admit it. Girls never will. But that's what makes you so unhappy—you won't let yourself go. Ah, Julia! be fair to yourself, darling! Tell me that you care for me. I've waited seven years for you, dear—"
"Oh, you have not!" Julia said impatiently.
"I'd like to know why I haven't!" Mark said challengingly. "Ah, but you know I have, darling. And I want my wife." It was a Saturday afternoon, and Miss Toland was dozing in her own room. Julia and Mark were alone in the deserted assembly hall. Suddenly he slipped on his knees beside her, and locked one arm about her waist. "You will, won't you, Julia?" he stammered.
Julia, scarlet cheeked, tried to rise, and held him off with her hands.
"Oh, please, please," she begged. "I can't, Mark. You are awfully good to me—I'm not worth it, and all that—but I can't. I—it's not my fault I don't want to, is it? It would be wrong to do it, feeling this way—"
She was on her feet now, and Mark stood up, too. Both were breathing hard; they looked at each other through a widening silence. Flies buzzed against the closed windows, a gust of summer wind swept along the street outside. Suddenly Mark caught Julia fiercely in his arms, and felt her heart beating madly against him, and forcing up her chin with a gentle big hand, kissed her again and again upon her unresponsive lips.
"There!" he said, freeing her, a laugh of triumph in his voice. "Now you belong to me! That's the kind of a man that's in love with you, my girl, and don't you think for one instant that you can play fast and loose with him!"
Julia sat still for a long time after the street door banged, staring straight ahead of her. She was going for this week-end to the little house the Scotts had been loaned in Belvedere for the season, and she dressed and packed her suitcase very soberly. Miss Toland went with her to the ferry, both glad to get the fresh breath of the water, and Julia had a riotous dinner with the Scotts, and a wonderful evening drifting about in their punt between the stars in the low summer sky and the stars in the bay. When they were in their porch beds she told Kennedy all about Mark, and Kennedy commented that he certainly was a gratifyingly ardent admirer.
"Ardent? I should think so!" sighed Julia, and went to sleep, not ill-pleased with her role of the inaccessible lady. But the fact that Mark's persistence could not be discouraged fretted her a good deal. He rarely gave her a chance for a definite snub; if she was ungracious, his humble patience waited tirelessly upon her mood; and if she smiled, he showed such wistful delight that even Julia's cool little heart was stirred. That he never stirred her in any deeper way, that his kisses did not warm her, was not a serious trouble to Mark. She would be all the sweeter to win; he would wake her in his arms to the knowledge that she loved him! And Julia won, as his little wife, would be dearer even than the demure and inaccessible Julia of to-day. Mark fed his hungry heart on love tales; many a man had won a harder fight than his; these cold, shy girls made the best wives in the world!
Julia began seriously to consider the marriage. She visioned a safe and pleasant life, if no very thrilling one. Mark was handsome, devoted, he was making money, he would be faithful to his wife and adore his children. Julia would have no social position, of course. She sighed. She would be a comfortable little complacent wife among a thousand others. She would have her silk gowns, her cut glass; she could afford an outing at Pacific Grove with the children; some day she and Mark would go to New York—
No, not she and Mark! She couldn't; she didn't love him enough to sit opposite him all the mornings of her life, to sell her glowing dreams for him! She had come so far from the days that united her childhood with all the Rosenthals—she had not seen Mrs. Tarbury, nor Rose, nor Connie for years. She was climbing, climbing, away from all those old associations. And she could climb faster alone!