One warm morning in August, when Miss Toland was stretched out on the reception-room couch, and Julia, who had washed her hair, was shaking it, a flying, fluffy mop, over the sill of the bathroom window, a sudden hubbub broke out in the kindergarten. Miss Toland flung down her book and Julia gathered her loose wrapper about her, and both ran to the door of the assembly hall. The children, crying and frightened, were gathered in a group, and in the centre of it Julia, from the elevation of the stage, could see Miss Pierce half-kneeling and leaning over as if she tried to raise something from the floor. While they watched she arose, holding the limp body of a five-year-old child in her arms.
"What is it—what is it?" screamed Miss Toland, but as every one else was screaming and crying, and Julia's automatic, "Is she dead?" was answered over and over again only by Miss Pierce's breathless, "No—no—no—I don't think so!" it was some time before any clear idea of the tragedy could be had. The small girl was carried in to Julia's bed, where she lay half-conscious, moaning; great bubbles of blood formed from an ugly skin wound in her lip, and her little frock was stained with blood. As an attempt to remove her clothes only roused her to piercing screams, Julia and Miss Pierce gave up the attempt, and fell to bathing the child's forehead, which, with the baby curls pushed away from it, gave a ghastly look to the little face.
"Well, you've killed her, Miss Pierce!" said Miss Toland, beside herself with nervousness. "That's a dying child, if I ever saw one. That ruins this Settlement House! That ends it! Poor little thing!"
"I was at the board," said Miss Pierce, white-lipped, and in a low tone.
"I don't care where you were," said Miss Toland. "There, there, darling! I pay you to watch these children! It's a fine thing if a child is going to be killed right here in the house! Where was Miss Watts?" she broke off to ask.
"Miss Watts is at home, sick," Miss Pierce said eagerly. "And I was at the board, when some of those bigger boys set a bench up on top of another bench. I heard the noise and turned around; this child—poor little Maude Daley, it is—was standing right there, and got the full weight of both benches as they fell."
"This boy is back," said Julia, coming from the front door, "and he says that Doctor White is out and Doctor McGuire is out, too!"
"Great heavens!" Miss Toland began despairingly. "No doctor! of course, eleven o'clock they're all out on morning rounds! And the child's mother, where is she? Am I the only person here who can do something except sit around and say 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry!'"
"She has no mother, and her grandmother's out," Julia said soothingly. "Miss Toland, if I telephone do you think I can catch Doctor Studdiford at the City and County?"
"A two hours' trip from Sausalito!" Miss Toland said scornfully. "You must be crazy, that's all! No! Go into Mission Street—"
"I don't mean in Sausalito," Julia said firmly; "he's at the City and County on Wednesday mornings, you know. I could get him there."
Miss Toland stared at her unblinkingly for a second.
"Yes, do that!" she said then. "Yes, that's a good idea!" And as Julia ran to the telephone she called after her, "Yes, that's a very good idea!"
Julia's heart thumped as she called the big institution, thumped when after a long wait a crisp voice, out of utter silence, said:
"Yes? This is Doctor Studdiford!"
She explained as concisely as she could, feeling that he listened attentively.
"Keep the child flat, no pillow," he said, as Julia concluded. "Tell my aunt I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
Julia, thrilled by she knew not what, knotted her flying hair loosely on her neck and buttoned on a fresh uniform. Ten minutes later she admitted Doctor Studdiford to the sickroom.
He had laid aside his hat and washed his hands. Now he sat down by the bed and smiled at the dazed, moaning little Maude. Julia felt something expand in her heart as she watched him, his intense, intelligent face, his singularly winning smile, the loose lock of dark hair on his forehead.
"Now, then, Maude," said he, his clever, supple fingers on her wrist, "where does it hurt?"
Maude whimpered something made unintelligible by the fast-stiffening cut in her lip.
"Her back's broken, Jim, no doubt about it," said Miss Toland grimly.
"I think her side hurts," Miss Pierce submitted eagerly.
"Well, we'll see—we'll see!" Doctor Studdiford said soothingly. "Now, if you'll help me, Miss Page, we'll get off these clothes—ah!" For an anguished moan from the sufferer coincided with his discovery that the little left arm hung limp. Julia loosened the sleeve as the surgeon's scissors clipped it away, and she held the child while the arm was set and bandaged. Miss Pierce was faint, and Miss Toland admitted freely that she hated to see a child suffer, and went away. "Only a clean dislocation, Aunt Sanna!" said Jim, cheerfully, when he came out of the sickroom. "She'll have to lie still for a while, but that's all. The cut on her mouth doesn't amount to anything. She's all right, now—Miss Page is telling her stories. She ought to have a glass of milk, or soup, or something; then she'll go to sleep. I'll be in to-morrow. By the way, you have a little treasure there in Miss Page!"
"Julia? Glad you have the sense to see it, Jim!"
"She—is—a—peach!" the doctor mused, packing his very smart little instrument case. "Who is she?"
"A little girl I found. Yes, she's a nice child, Julia. She's been here six years now."
"Six years! Great Scott! How old is she?"
"Twenty-two—twenty-three—something like that."
"It doesn't sound much of a life for a young girl, Aunt Sanna. Imagine the Barbary-flower!" Doctor Studdiford shook his thermometer, looked at it, and screwed it into its case.
"How is Barbara?" Miss Toland asked dryly.
"Fine! Mother came to me with a long tale, the other day, about her being run down, or blue, or something, but I don't see it. She has a dandy time."
"Why doesn't she marry? Barbara must be twenty-six," her aunt said, with directness.
"Oh, I don't know; why don't all the girls? The fellows they run with are an awfully bum lot," Jim said contentedly. "Look at me! Why don't I?" he added, laughing.
"Well, why don't you?"
"I'm waiting to settle the others off, I guess. Besides, you know, I've been working like the devil! Sally's been worrying Mother with her affairs lately," said Jim.
"Keith Borroughs!" Jim announced, grinning.
"Keith Borroughs? Why, he's ten years younger!"
"He's about three years younger, and he's an awful fool," said Jim, "but he's very much in love with Sally, and she certainly seems to like it!"
"I think that's disgusting!" said Miss Toland. "Has he a job?"
"Job? He's a genius, my dear aunt. His father pays for his music lessons, and his mother gives him an allowance. He's a pianist."
"H'm!" commented the lady briefly.
"Ned has definitely announced his intention of marrying his Goldfield girl," pursued Jim.
"Yes, I knew that. Kill your mother!"
"It'll just about kill her. And the latest is Ted—falling in love with Bob Carleton!"
"Carleton! Not the lumber man? But he's fifty!"
"He's forty-five, forty-seven perhaps."
"But he's married, Jim!"
"Divorced, Aunt Sanna."
"Oh, Jim, that's awful!" said his aunt, horrified.
"Well, it may come to nothing. Ted's only twenty—I hope devoutly it will. There—that's all the news!" Jim jumped up from his chair, and gave his aunt a kiss. "Why don't you come over and get it for yourself, now and then! I don't know how much there is in any of this stuff, because I use my rooms at the club a good deal, but it's all in the wind. That little Julia Page is a peach, isn't she?"
"You said that once," Miss Toland said dispassionately. Jim grinned, unabashed. He had been in love with one girl or another since his fourteenth year, and liked nothing so much as having his affairs of the heart discussed.
"Well, it's true, and I'll say it again for luck!" said he. "Who is she? I suppose Pius Aloysius Maloney, or some good soul who comes to teach the kids boxing, has got it all framed up with her?"
"I don't know any Mr. Maloney," Miss Toland answered imperturbably. "Mr. Craig is director of the Boys' Club, and I know he admires her, and she has another admirer, too, who comes here now and then. But how likely she is to marry I really can't say! She's an extremely ambitious girl, and she has determined to raise herself."
"Raise herself!" Jim said, with a casual laugh. "I don't suppose she started much lower than other people?"
"Oh, I imagine she did. Her father was a—I don't know—a sort of drummer, I guess, but her mother is an awful person, and her grandfather was a day labourer!"
"Ha!" Jim said, discomfited. "Well, see you tomorrow!" he added, departing. He walked briskly to the corner of the street, and experienced a thump at the heart when a casual backward glance discovered Julia, in a most fetching hat, coming out of the settlement house with a market basket on her arm. She did not see him, and Jim decided not to see her. Of course she was a little peach, but that labourer grandfather was too much.
That same evening Julia used the accident to little Maude as an excuse to break a half engagement with Mark. He was to be given only a few moments' chat before the Girls' Club met for a rehearsal, but he showed such bitter disappointment at losing it that Julia, half against her will, promised to spend at least part of her Sunday afternoon with him.
This was on Wednesday, and on Thursday and Saturday Doctor Studdiford came to see his little patient, and both times saw Julia, too. He asked Julia what books she liked, and, surprised that she knew nothing of Browning, he sent her a great volume of his poetry, a leather-bound exquisite edition that Jim had taken some trouble to find. With the book came a box of violets, and Julia, opening the package, suddenly remembered that he was a rich man, and stood, flushed and palpitating to a thousand emotions, looking down at the damp, fragrant flowers.
She wore a few violets at the breast of her sober little gown when she met Mark on Sunday for the promised walk. Julia had been most reluctant to go, but Maude had been moved to her own home, and the child's father was sitting with her, so that Julia had no excuse to visit her.
"I want to show you something—something you'll like!" said Mark eagerly. "We take the Sixteenth Street car and transfer down Sacramento."
Julia accepted his guidance good-naturedly, and they crossed the city, which lay in a clear wash of the warm September sunlight. Mark led Julia finally to the ornate door of a new apartment house in Sacramento Street.
"What is it, Mark?" the girl asked, as they went in. "Some one we know live here?"
"You wait!" Mark said mysteriously. He went to a desk in the handsome entrance hall, and talked for a few moments to a clerk who sat there. Then a quiet-looking, middle-aged woman came out, and Mark and Julia went upstairs with her, in a little elevator.
The woman turned a key in a door, and led them into a charmingly bright front apartment of four good-sized rooms and a shining bathroom. There was a bedroom with curly-maple furniture, a dining-room with a hanging lamp of art glass on a brass chain, and Mission oak table and chairs, a kitchen delightfully convenient and completely equipped, and a little drawing-room, with a gas log, a bookshelf, a good rug, a little desk, and some rocking chairs and small tables. The sun shone in through fresh net curtains, and the high windows commanded a bright view of city roofs and a glimpse of the bay.
Julia began to feel nervous and uncomfortable. She did not understand at all what Mark meant by this, but it was impossible to doubt, from his beaming face, that some plan involving her was afoot. He couldn't have furnished this apartment in the hope—?
"Whose place is this, Mark?" she asked, trying to laugh naturally.
"Do you like it?" Mark countered, his eyes dancing.
"Like it? It's simply sweet, of course! But whose is it?"
"Well, now listen," Mark explained. "It's Joe Kirk's furniture; he's just been married, you know. He and his wife had just got back from their honeymoon when Joe got an offer of a fine job in New York. He asked me to see if I couldn't find a tenant for this—two years' lease to run—just as it stands; no raise in rent. And the rent's fifty-five?" he called to the woman in the next room.
"Fifty, Mr. Rosenthal," she answered impassively.
"Fifty!" Mark exulted. "Think of getting all this for fifty! Ah, Julia"—he came close to her as she stood staring down from the window, and lowered his voice—"will you, darling? Will you? You like it, don't you? Will you marry me, dearest, and make a little home here with me?" "Oh, Mark!" Julia stammered, a nervous smile twitching her lips.
"Well, why won't you, Ju? Do you doubt that I love you? Answer me that!"
"Why, no—no, I don't, of course." Julia moved a little away.
"Don't go over there; she'll hear us! And you love me, don't you, Ju?"
"But not that way I don't, Mark," Julia said childishly.
"Oh, 'not that way'—that's all rubbish—that's the way girls talk; that's just an expression they have! Listen! Do you doubt that I'll always, always love you?"
"Oh, no, Mark, of course not!" Julia admitted. "But I don't want to marry any one—"
"Well, what do you want? Haven't I loved you since you were a little girl?"
"Yes, I know—of course you have! Only"—Julia gave him a desperate smile—"only I can't discuss such things here," she pleaded, "with that woman so near!"
"You're right!" Mark said, with military promptness, and as one who loves to receive his lady's orders. "We'll go out. Only—I wanted you to see it!"
And as they went out he must stop to show her the admirably deep drawers of the little sideboard and the ingenious arrangement by which the gas was electrically lighted.
They thanked the woman, and began the long ride back to the settlement house, for Julia never left Miss Toland long alone. In the Sacramento Street car they both had to stand, but Mark found seats without difficulty on the dummy of the Fillmore Street car, and laying his arm along the back of Julia's seat, swung about so that his face was very close to hers. A world of wistful tenderness filled his voice as he said again:
"Well, darling, what do you think of it?"
Poor Mark! Perhaps if he had asked her only a week earlier, his lady might have given him a kinder answer. But Julia was walking in a golden dream to-day, a dream peopled only by herself and one other, and she hardly noticed his emotion. She fixed her blue eyes vaguely on the black eyes so near, and smiled a little.
"Oh, answer me, Julia!" Mark said impatiently. And a second later he asked alertly: "Where'd you get the violets?"
"Oh—somebody," Julia temporized. Pink flooded her cheeks.
"Who?" said Mark, very calm.
"Oh, Mark, what a tone! Nobody you know!" Julia laughed.
"Is he in love with you?" Mark asked fiercely.
"Oh, don't be so silly! No, of course he's not."
"Tell me who he is!" Mark commanded grimly.
"Now, look here, Mark," Julia said sternly, "you stop that nonsense, or you can get straight off this car, and I'll go home alone! And don't you sulk, either, for it's too ridiculous, and I won't have it!"
Mark succumbed instantly.
"It's because I love you so," he said humbly. There was a little silence, then Julia, watching the Sunday streets, said suddenly:
"Look, Mark, look at the size of that hat!"
Mark, disdaining to turn his eyes for the fraction of a moment from her face, said reproachfully:
"Are you going to answer me, Julia?"
"How do you mean?" Julia said nervously.
"You know what I mean," Mark answered, with an impatient nod.
"No, I don't," Julia said, with a little laugh.
"Now, you look-a-here, Julia—you look-a-here," Mark began, almost angrily. "I am going to ask you to marry me! You've fooled about it, and you've laughed about it, and I've got a right to know! I think about it all the time; I lie awake at night and think about it. I"—his voice softened suddenly—"I love you awfully, Julia," he said. And then, with a sort of concentrated passion that rather frightened the girl, he added, "So I'm going to ask you once more. I want you to answer me, d'ye see?"
The car sped on, clanged across Market Street, turned into the Mission. Julia had grown a little pale. She gave Mark a fleeting glance, looked away, and finally brought her eyes back to him again.
"I wish you wouldn't take things so seriously, Mark," she began uneasily. "You're always forcing me to say things—and I don't want to—I don't want to get married at all—"
"Nonsense!" said Mark harshly.
"It's not nonsense!" Julia protested, glad to feel her anger rising. Mark saw her heightened colour, and misread it.
"Yes," he said sneeringly. "That's all very well, but I'll bet you'd feel pretty badly if I never came near you again—if I let the whole thing drop!"
"Oh, Mark," said Julia fervently, "if you only would—I don't mean that!" she interrupted herself, compunction seizing her at the look of mortal hurt on his face. "But I mean—if you only didn't love me! You see, I'm perfectly happy, Mark, I've got what I want. And if Miss Toland takes me abroad with her next year, why, it'll mean more to me than any marriage could, don't you see that? You know what my childhood was, Mark; my mother didn't love my father—" And as a sudden memory of the old life rose to confront her, Julia's tone became firm; she felt a certain sureness. "Married people ought to love each other, Mark," she said positively. "I know that. And I won't—I never will marry a man I don't love. If everything goes wrong, after that, you have only yourself to blame. And so many times it goes wrong, Mark! I should be unhappy, I should keep wondering if I wouldn't be happier going my own way—wondering if I wouldn't have—have gotten farther—do you understand me?"
This was a long speech for Julia, and during it Mark had twisted about, and pulled his hat over his face. Now, in a voice curiously dead and hard, he asked briefly:
"I don't know," said Julia candidly. "But the more I read, and the more I think, the more it seems to me that anyone can be anything in this world; there's some queer rule that makes you rise if you want to rise, if only you don't compromise! The reason so many people don't ultimately get what they want is because they stop trying for it, and take something else!"
"And marriage with me would be a compromise, is that it?" Mark muttered sullenly.
"It would be for me," Julia answered serenely. "Because staying where I am keeps me nearer what I want."
"Money, huh?" asked Mark.
"Oh, money, no! Books and talk—things. And—and if I loved you, Mark, then don't you see it would be the right thing to marry you?" she added brightly. "But now, it would only be because it was easier, or because I was tired of The Alexander, do you see?"
"I suppose so," Mark answered drearily.
A long silence ensued. In silence they got off the car, and walked through the cheerless twilight of the dirty streets, and they were almost in sight of the settlement house before Mark burst out, a little huskily:
"Then there's no chance for me at all, Julie?"
"Oh, Mark, I feel rotten about it!" said Julia frankly, her eyes full of pity and regret, and yet a curious relief evident in her voice. "I am so sorry! I've just been thinking of girls who like this sort of thing—I don't see how they can! I am so sorry! But you won't mind very long, Mark; you won't always care; you'll—why, there's Doctor Studdiford's automobile!"
For they were in sight of The Alexander now, and could see the electric runabout at the door. Motor cars were still new to San Francisco and to the world, and a crowd of curious children surrounded the machine.
"What's he there for?" Mark asked gruffly.
Julia explained: the accident—the emergency call.
"Well, but the kid is not there now, you say?"
"Yes, I know. But he didn't know that. I suppose he's calling on his aunt."
To this Mark made no immediate answer. Presently he said:
"City and County! I'll bet the city pays for his automobile!"
"Oh, no!" Julia protested. "He's a rich man in his own right, Mark."
They were at the house now, and went up the steps together. Doctor Studdiford was in the little reception hall with Miss Toland. He looked very handsome, very cheerful, as he came forward with his fine eyes on Julia. And Julia stood looking up at him with an expression Mark never had won from her, her serious, beautiful little face flooded with light, her round eyes soft and luminous. A woman at last, she seemed as she stood there, a grave and wise and beautiful woman, ripe for her share of loving and living, ready to find her mate.
"You got the book?" Jim said, with a little laugh. He laughed because his heart was shaking curiously, and because the sudden sight of Julia disconcerted him so that he hardly knew what he said.
Julia did not answer; she only touched the wilting and fragrant violets on her breast with her free hand. Jim still held one hand.
"You—you'll like Browning," added Jim. And inconsequentially he added, "I was thinking of our little talk yesterday—all night."
"So was I," Julia breathed. They turned suddenly and self-consciously to Miss Toland and Mark. Julia introduced the men; her breath was coming unevenly and her colour was exquisite; she talked nervously, and did not meet Mark's eye. Mark was offered a lift in Doctor Studdiford's motor car, and declined it. The doctor seemed to be in no hurry to go; wandered into her room to advise his aunt upon the placing of a telephone extension. Julia and Mark loitered about the assembly hall for a few empty moments, and then Mark said he must go, and Julia, absently consenting, went with him toward the stage door.
"And he's rich, is he?" said Mark.
Julia came out of a brief dream.
"He's very rich—yes!" she smiled.
She mounted to the stage as she spoke, and Mark held out his hand and turned about as if to say goodbye. The next instant Julia felt as if the dull twilight room had turned to brass and was falling with a wild clamour; she felt as if her heart were being dragged bodily to her lips, and she heard her own wild scream.
Silence fell, and Mark was still staring at her, still smiling. But now he toppled slowly toward her and stumbled, and as his body, with a hideous, slithering sound, slipped down to the floor, his arm fell lax, and the still smoking revolver slid to Julia's very feet.
"Stop, Julia—what is it?—what is it?" Miss Toland was crying. She locked her arms tight about the girl, and drew her back into the reception hall. Julia was silent, suddenly realizing that she had been screaming. She moved her tongue over her dry lips, and struggled to explain.
"Now we understand perfectly!" Doctor Studdiford said soothingly. "He shot himself, poor fellow. I'm going to take care of him, do you see? Just keep still, Aunt Sanna, or we'll have a crowd here. Aunt Sanna, do you want this to get into the papers?" For Miss Toland's surmises were delivered at a sort of shriek.
"Oo—oo—oo!" shuddered Julia, fearful eyes on the assembly room door. "He was—we were just talking—"
"Is he dead, Jim?" asked Miss Toland fearfully.
"I think so. I'm going to call the hospital for an ambulance, anyway." Doctor Studdiford was all brisk authority.
"But what ever possessed him?" shrilled Miss Toland again. "Of all things!"
"Had you quarrelled?" asked Jim, keen eyes on Julia as he rattled the telephone hook.
"No," Julia said shortly, like a child who holds something back. Then her face wrinkled, and she began to cry. "He wanted to marry me," she said piteously. "He wanted me to promise! But he always has asked me—ever since I was fifteen years old, and I always said no!"
"Well, now," Jim said soothingly. "Don't cry. You couldn't help it. Do you know why he carried a revolver?"
"He has to carry it, his business isn't a very safe one," Julia said shakily. "He's shown it to me once or twice!" Her voice dropped on a trembling note, and her eyes were wild with fright.
"Now, Aunt Sanna," said Jim quietly, after telephoning, "I think that you and Miss Page ought to get out of here. You'll have a raft of reporters and busybodies here to-morrow. It's a ghastly thing, of course, and the quieter we keep it the better for every one. I'll manage my end of it. I'll have as conservative an account as I can in the papers—simply that he was despondent over a love affair and, in a fit of temporary aberration—and so on. Could you close this place up for a week?"
"Certainly!" said Miss Toland, with Spartan promptness, beginning to enjoy the desperate demand of the hour.
"And could you take that poor child somewhere, out of the public eye?"
"I will indeed, Jim!"
"Well, that's the best way to do. You're a trump, Aunt Sanna! I will say that Miss Page is naturally prostrated, and gone away to friends."
"Jim, has that poor boy a chance?"
"A chance? No. No; he died instantly. It was straight through the brain. Yes, terrible—naturally. Now, will you take what you need—" "Instantly!" said Miss Toland, with a shudder. "Oh, Jim, I'm so glad you're a doctor," she added weakly, clutching his arm, "and so cold blooded and reliable!"
"I'm glad I was here," Jim answered simply. "Hello, look at poor little Miss Page! She's fainted!"