Nevertheless, the young Studdifords, upon their return to San Francisco, entered heartily upon the social joys of the hour. Barbara had been only waiting their arrival to demurely announce her engagement, and Julia's delight immediately took the form of dinners and theatre parties for the handsome Miss Toland and her fiance. A new and softened sweetness marked Barbara in these days; she was more gentle and more charming than she had ever been before. Captain Edward Francis Humphry Gunther Fox was an officer in the English army, a blond, silent man of forty, with kind eyes and a delightfully modulated voice. He had a comfortable private income, a "place" in Oxfordshire, an uncle, young and healthy to be sure, but still a lord, and an older sister who had married a lord, so that his credentials were unexceptionable, and Mrs. Toland was nearly as happy as her daughter was.
"It's curious," said Barbara to Julia, in one of their first hours alone, "but there is a distinction and an excitement about getting engaged, and you enjoy it just as much at thirty as at twenty—perhaps more. People—or persons, as Francis says—who have never paid me any attention before, are flocking to the front now with presents and good wishes, and some who never have seen Captain Fox congratulate me—it amounts to congratulation—as if any marriage were better than none!"
"Well, there is a something about marriage," Julia admitted; "you may not have any reason for feeling so, but you do feel superior, 'way down in your secret heart! And yet, Babbie," and a little shadow darkened her bright face, "and yet, once you are married, you see a sort of—well, a sort of uncompromising brightness about girlhood, too! When I go out to The Alexander now, and remember my old busy days there, and walking to chapel with Aunt Sanna, in the fresh, early mornings—I don't know—it makes me almost a little sad!"
"Don't speak of it," said Barbara. "When I think of leaving Dad, and home, and going off to England, and having to make friends of awful women with high cheek bones, and mats of crimps coming down to their eyebrows, it scares me to death!"
And both girls laughed gayly. They were having tea in Julia's drawing-room on a cold bright afternoon in May.
"I'll miss Dad most," pursued Barbara seriously. "Mother's so much with Ted now, anyway." She frowned at the fire. "Mother's curious, Ju," she added presently. "Every one says she's an ideal mother, and so on, and I suppose she is, but—"
"You're more like your father, anyway," Julia suggested in the pause.
"It's not only that," said Barbara slowly, "but Mother has never been in sympathy with any one of us! Ned deceived her, Sally deceived her, Theodora went deliberately against her advice, and broke her heart, and Con and Jane don't really respect her opinion at all! I'm the oldest, her first born—"
"And she loves you dearly," Julia said soothingly.
"Used to Ju, when I was a baby. And loves me theoretically now. But she has taken my not marrying to heart much more than the curious marriages Ned and the girls have made! Hints about old maids, and stories about her own popularity as a girl, regardless of the fact that no one wanted me—"
"Well, no one did!" Barbara laughed a little dryly. "Why, not two months ago," she went on, "that little sprig of a Paul Smith called on Con, and Mother engineered me out of the room, and said something laughingly to Richie and Ted about not wanting to stand in Con's way, 'one old maid was enough in a family!'"
"Maddening! Yes, I know," Julia said, laughing and shaking her head. "I've heard her a hundred times!"
"Of course it's all love and kisses, now," Barbara added, "and Francis is a bold, big thief, and how can she give up her dear big girl—"
"Oh, Barbara, don't be bitter!"
"Well," Barbara flung her head back as if she tossed the subject aside, "I suppose I am bitter! And why you're not, Ju, I can't understand, for you never had one tenth the chance I did!"
"No," Julia assented gravely, "I never did. If my mother had kept me with her—and she could have done it—if she hadn't left my father—he loved me so—it would all have been different. Mothers are strange, Babby, they have so much power—or seem to! It seems to me that one could do so much to straighten things out for the poor little baby brains; this is worth while, and this isn't worth while, and so on! Suppose"—Julia poured herself a fresh cup of tea, and leaned back comfortably in her chair—"suppose you had young daughters, Bab," said she, "what would you do, differently from your mother, I mean?"
"Oh, I don't know!" Barbara said, "only it seems funny that mothers can't help their daughters more. Half my life is lived now, probably, yet Mother goes right on theorizing, she—she doesn't get down to facts, somehow! I don't know—"
"It all comes down to this," Julia said briskly, as Barbara's voice trailed into silence, "sitting around and waiting for some one to ask her to marry him is not a sufficiently absorbing life work for the average young woman!"
"She isn't expected to do anything else," Barbara added, "except— attract. And it isn't as if she could be deciding in her own mind about it; the decision is in his mind: if he chooses he can ask her; if he doesn't, all right! It's a shame—it's a shame, I say, not to give her a more dignified existence than that!"
"Yes, but, Bab, your mother couldn't have put you into a shop to sell ribbons, or made a telephone girl of you!"
"No; my brothers didn't sell ribbons, or go on a telephone board, either. But I don't see why I shouldn't have studied medicine, like Jim and Richie, or gone into the office at the works in Yolo City, like Ned."
"Yes, but, Babby, you've no leaning toward medicine!"
"Well, then, something else, just as Jim would have done something else, in that case! Office hours and responsibility, and meeting of men in some other than a social way. You and I have somehow dragged a solution out of it, Julie: we are happy in spite of all the blundering and stumbling, but I've not got my Mother to thank for it, and neither have you!"
"No, neither have I!" Julia said, with a long sigh, and for a few moments they both watched the coals in silence. The room was quite dark now; the firelight winked like a drowsy eye; here and there the gold of a picture frame or the smooth curve of a bit of copper or brassware twinkled. The windows showed opaque squares of dull gray; elsewhere was only heavy shadow, except where Barbara's white gown made a spot of dull relief in the gloom, and Julia's slipper buckles caught the light. A great jar of lilacs, somewhere in the room, sent out a subtle and delicious scent.
"Funny world, isn't it, Julie?"
"Oh, funny!" Julia put out her hand, and met Barbara's, and their fingers pressed. "Nothing better in it, Barbara, than a friend like you!" she said affectionately.
"That's what I was thinking," said Barbara.
The Studdifords went to San Mateo after the wedding, and Julia, who had taken herself seriously in hand, entered upon the social life of the summer with a perfectly simulated zest. She rode and drove, played golf and tennis and polo, gossiped and spent hours at bridge, she went tirelessly from luncheon to tea, from dinner to supper party, and when Jim was detained in town, she went without him; a little piece of self-reliance that pleased him very much. If society was not extremely popular with Julia, Julia was very popular with society; her demure beauty made her conspicuous wherever she went, and in July, prominent in some theatricals at the clubhouse, she earned all honours before her.
Julia found the theatricals perilously delightful; the grease paint and the ornate costume seemed like old friends; she was intoxicated and enchanted by the applause. For several days after her most successful performance she was thoughtful: what if she had never joined the "Amazon" caste, never gone to Sausalito, followed naturally in the footsteps of Connie Girard and Rose Ransome? She might have been a great actress; she would have been a great beauty.
San Mateo, frankly, bored her, although she could not but admire the beautiful old place, the lovely homes set in enchanting old gardens, the lawns and drives stretching under an endless vista of superb oaks. There, alone with Jim, in a little cottage—ah, there would have been nothing boring about that!
But the Hardesty cottage never seemed like home to her, they had rented the big, shingled brown house for only three months, and Jim was anxious that she should not tire herself with altering the arrangement of furniture and curtains for so casual a tenancy. The Hardesty's pictures looked down from the wall, their chairs were unfriendly, their books under lock and key. Not a lamp, not a cup or saucer was familiar to Julia; she felt uncomfortable in giving dinner parties with "H" on the silver knives and forks; she never liked the look of the Hardesty linen. Life seemed unreal in the "Cottage"; she seemed to be pushed further and further away from reassuring contact with the homely realities of love and companionship; chattering people were always about her, pianoplayers were rippling out the waltz from "The Merry Widow," ice was clinking in cocktail shakers, the air was scented with cigarettes, with the powder and perfumery of women. She and Jim dined alone not oftener than once a week, and their dinner was never finished before friendly feet crisped on the gravel curve of the drive, and friendly invaders appeared to invite them to do something amusing: to play cards, to take long spins in motor cars, or to spend an idle hour or two at the club. Sometimes they were separated, and Julia would come in, chilled and tired after a long drive, to find Jim ahead of her, already sound asleep. Sometimes she left him smoking with some casual guest, and fell asleep long before the voices downstairs subsided. Even if they went upstairs together, both were tired; there was neither time nor inclination for confidences, for long and leisurely talk.
"Happy?" Jim said to his wife one day, when Julia, looking the picture of happiness, had come downstairs to join him for some expedition.
"Happy enough," Julia said, with her grave smile. She took the deep wicker chair next his, on the porch, and sat looking down the curve of the drive to the roadway beyond a screen of trees.
"Heavenly afternoon," she said. "Just what are we doing?"
"Well, as near as I got it from Greg," Jim informed her a little uncertainly, "we go first to his place, and then split up into about three cars there; Mrs. Peter and Mrs. Billings will take the eats, Peter will have a whole hamper of cocktails and things, and we go up to the ridge for a sort of English nursery tea, I think."
"Doing it all ourselves?" Julia suggested, brightening.
"Well, practically. Although Greg's cook is going ahead with a couple of maids in the Peters' car. They're going to broil trout or something; anyway, I know Greg has been having fits about seeing that enough plates go, and so on. I know Paula Billings is taking something frozen—"
"Oh, Lord, what a fuss and what a mess!" Julia said ungratefully.
"Well, you know how the Peters always do things. And then, after tea, if this glorious weather holds, we'll send the maids and the hampers home, and all go on down to Fernand's."
"Fernand's! Forty miles, Jim?"
"Oh, why not? If we're having a good time?"
"Well, I hope Peter Vane and Alan Gregory keep sober, that's all!" Julia said. "The ride will be lovely, and it's a wonderful day. But Minna Vane always bores me so!"
"Why, you little cat!" Jim laughed, catching her hand as it hung loose over the arm of her chair.
"They've no brains," complained Julia seriously; "they were born doing this sort of thing, they think they like it! Buying—buying—buying—eating—dancing—rushing—rushing—rushing! It's no life at all! I'd rather pack a heavy basket, and lug it over a hot hill, and carry water half a mile, when I picnic, instead of rolling a few miles in a motor car, and then sitting on a nice camp-chair, and having a maid to pass me salads and ices and toast and broiled trout!"
"Well, if you would, I wouldn't!" Jim said good-naturedly.
"I wasn't born to this," Julia added thoughtfully; "my life has always been full of real things; perhaps that's the trouble. I think of all the things that aren't going right in the world, and I can't just turn my back on them, like a child—I get thinking of poor little clerks whose wives have consumption—"
"Oh, for heaven's sake!" Jim protested frowningly, biting the end from his cigar with a clip of firm white teeth.
"It isn't as if I had never been poor," Julia pursued uncertainly. "I know that there are times when a new gown or a paid bill actually would affect a girl's whole life! I think of those poor little girls at St. Anne's—"
"I would like to suggest," Jim said incisively, "that the less you let your mind run on those little girls from St. Anne's, the better for you! If you have no consideration for my feelings in this matter, Julie, for your own I should think you would consider such topics absolutely—well, absolutely in poor taste!"
Silence. Jim puffed on his cigar. Julia sat without stirring, feeling that every drop of blood in her body had rushed to her head. The muscles of her temples and throat ached, her eyes saw only a green-and-gold dazzle, her wet little hands gripped the arms of her chair.
"It is all very well to criticise these people," pursued Jim sententiously, after a long silence, "although they have all been kindness and graciousness itself to you! They may be shallow, they may be silly; I don't hold any brief for Minna Vane and Paula Billings. But I know that Minna is on the Hospital Board, and Paula a mighty kind-hearted, good little woman, and they don't sit around pulling long faces, and wishing they were living south of Market Street!"
Julia sat perfectly still. She could not have battled with the lump in her throat if life had depended upon her speaking. She felt her chest strain with a terrible rush of sobbing, but she held herself stiffly, and only prayed that her tears might be kept back until she was alone.
"Hello! Here's Greg," Jim said cheerfully, after another silence. And here, truly, was Alan Gregory, a red-faced, smooth-shaven young man, already slightly hilarious and odorous of drink, and very gallant to beautiful Mrs. Studdiford. A great silky veil must be tied over Julia's hat; sure she was warm enough? Might be late, might get cold, you know.
"Shall I get you your white coat, dear?" Jim asked solicitously.
"Oh, no, thank you, Jim!"
Then they were off, and Julia told herself that men and their wives often quarrelled this way; it was a common enough thing to have some woman announce, with a casual laugh, that she and her husband had had a "terrible scene," and "weren't speaking." Only, with Jim it seemed so different! It seemed so direfully, so hopelessly wrong!
She felt a hypocrite when they joined the others, and when she presently found herself laughing and talking with them all, even with Jim. And through the jolly afternoon and noisy evening she found herself watching her husband, when she could do so unobserved, with gravely analytical eyes. No barbed sentence of his could long affect her, for Julia had pondered and prayed too long over this matter to find any fresh distress in a reminder of it. Her natural simple honesty very soon adjusted the outraged sensibilities. But Jim could hurt himself with his wife, and this afternoon he had done so. Unconsciously Julia said to herself, over and over, "Oh, he should not have said that! That was not kind!"
Mrs. Vane had a great favour to ask the men of the party to-night. She proffered it somewhat doubtfully, like a spoiled child who is almost sure of being denied, yet risks its little charms in one more entreaty. She and Paula, yes, and Mrs. Jerome, and little Julia—wasn't that so, Julia?—wanted to see a roadhouse. No—no—no—not the sort of place where nice women went, but a regular roadhouse—oh, please, please, please! They had their veils to tie over their faces, and they would keep very unobtrusively in the background, and there was a man apiece and two men over to protect them.
"All the girls in town are doing it!" argued Mrs. Vane, "and they say it's perfectly killing! Dancing, you know, and singing. You have to keep your veil down, of course! Betty said they'd been three times!"
"Nothing doing," Jim said good-naturedly, shaking his head.
"Oh, now, don't say that, Doctor!" Mrs. Vane commanded animatedly; "it's too mean! Well, if you couldn't take us to the very worst, where could you take us—Hunter's?"
"Hunter's!" the three men echoed, laughing and exchanging glances.
"Well, where then?" the lady pursued.
"Look here, Min," said her husband uneasily, "there's nothing to it. And you girls might get insulted and mixed into something—"
"Oh, divine!" Mrs. Billings said; "now I will go!"
"White's, huh, Jim?" Greg suggested tentatively.
"White's?" Jim considered it, shook his head. "Nothing doing there, anyway!" was his verdict.
"Larry's, where the pretty window boxes are," suggested Mrs. Vane, hopeful eyes upon the judges. "Come on! Oh, come on! You see such flossy ladies getting out of motor cars in front of Larry's!"
"There's this about Larry's," Mr. Billings contributed; "we could get one of those side places, and then, if things got too hot, just step out on to the porch, d'ye see, and get the girls away with no fuss at all."
"That's so," Jim conceded; "but I'll be darned if I know why they want to do it. However—"
"However, you're all angels!" sang Mrs. Vane, and catching Julia about the waist, she began to waltz upon the pleasant meadow grass where they had just had their high tea. "Come on, everybody! We won't be at Fernand's until nearly night, then dinner, and then Larry's!"
"Mind now," growled one of the somewhat unwilling escort, "you girls keep your veils down. Nix on the front-page story to-morrow!"
"Oh, we'll behave!" Mrs. Billings assured him. And slipping an affectionate arm about Julia's waist, as they walked to the motor cars, she murmured: "My dear, there isn't one decent woman in the place! Isn't this fun!"
Julia did not answer. She got into the car and settled herself for the run; so much of the day at least would be pleasant. It was the close of a lovely summer afternoon, the long shadows of the trees lay ahead of them on the road, the sky was palest blue and palest pink, a flock of white baby clouds lay low against the eastern horizon. The warm air bore the clean good scent of wilting grass and hot pine sap. The car rolled along smoothly, its motion stirring the still air into a breeze. Mr. Billings, sitting next to Julia, began an interested disquisition upon the difficulties of breeding genuine, bat-eared, French bulldogs. Julia scarcely heard him, but she nodded now and then, and now and then her blue eyes met his; once she gratified him with a dreamy smile. This quite satisfied Morgan Billings, to whom it never occurred that Julia's thoughts might be on the beauties of the rolling landscape, and her smile for the first star that came prickling through the soft twilight.
And after a while some aching need of her soul grew less urgent, and some of the wistfulness left her face. She forgot the ideals that had come with her into her married life, and crushed down the conviction that Jim, like all men, liked his wife to slip into the kitchen and concoct some little sweet for his supper, even with an artist like Foo Ting at his command. She realized that when she declined old Mrs. Chickering's luncheon invitation for the mere pleasure of rushing home to have lunch with Jim, her only reward might be a disapproving: "My Lord! Julia, I hope you didn't offend Mrs. Chickering! She's been so decent to us!"
It was as if Julia, offering high interest on her marriage bond, had at last learned that one tenth of what she would pay would satisfy Jim. Feeling as she did that no demonstration on his part, no inclination to monopolize her, would do more than satisfy her longing to be all in all to him, it was not an easy lesson. For a while she could not believe that he knew his own happiness in the matter, and a dispassionate onlooker might have found infinitely pathetic the experimental temerity with which she told him that this invitation had been accepted, this social obligation incurred, this empty Sunday filled to overflowing with engagements.
And now Jim approved, and Julia had to hide in the depth of her hurt soul the fact that she had never dreamed he could approve. However tired, he liked to come home to the necessity of immediately assuming evening dress, and going out into the night again. He and Julia held a cheerful conversation between their dressing-rooms as they dressed; later they chattered eagerly enough in the limousine, Jim enthusiastic over his wife's gown, and risking a kiss on her bare shoulder when the car turned down a dark street. Jim, across a brilliant table, in a strange house, did not seem to Julia to belong to her at all; but it was almost as if he found his wife more fascinating when the eyes of outsiders were upon her, and admired Julia in a ballroom more than he did when they had the library and the lamplight to themselves, at home.
They would come home together late and silent. Ellie would come in to help her lovely mistress out of the spangled gown, to lift the glittering band from her bright hair. And because of Ellie, and because Jim usually was dressed and gone before she was up in the morning, Julia had a room to herself now. She would have much preferred to breakfast with her lord, but Jim himself forbade it.
"No, no, no, Ju! It's not necessary, and you're much better off in bed. That's the time for you to get a little extra rest. No human being can stand the whole season without making some rest up somehow! You'll see the girls begin to drop with nervous prostration in January; Barbara used to lose twenty pounds every winter. And I won't have you getting pale. Just take things easy in the morning, and sleep as late as you can!"
Julia accepted the verdict mildly. With the opening of her second winter in San Francisco's most exclusive set, she had tried to analyze the whole situation, honestly putting her prejudices on one side, and attempting to get her husband's point of view. It was the harder because she had hoped to be to Jim just what Kennedy Marbury was to Anthony, united by a thousand needs, little and big, by the memory of a thousand little comedies and tragedies. Kennedy, who worried about bills and who dreaded the coming of the new baby, could stop making a pie to administer punishment and a lecture to her oldest son, stop again to answer the telephone, stop again to kiss her daughter's little bumped nose, and yet find in her tired soul and body enough love and energy to put a pastry "A. M." on the top of her pie, to amuse the head of the house when he should cut into it that night.
But this mixture of the ridiculous and the sublime was not for Julia. And just as Kennedy had adjusted herself to the life of a poor man's wife, so Julia must adjust herself to her own so different destiny.
And adjust herself she did. Nobody dreamed of the thoughts that went on behind the beautiful blue eyes, nobody found little Mrs. Studdiford anything but charming. With that steadfast, serious resolution that had marked her all her life, Julia set herself to the study of gowns, of dinners, of small talk. She kept a slim little brown Social Register on her dressing-table, and pored over it at odd moments; she listened attentively to the chatter that went on all about her. She drew infinitely less satisfaction from the physical evidences of her success—her beauty, her wealth, her handsome husband, and her popularity—than any one of the women who envied her might have done, yet she did draw some satisfaction, loved her pretty gowns, the freedom of bared white neck and shoulders, the atmosphere of perfumed drawing-rooms and glittering dinner tables. She wrote long letters to Barbara, was a devoted godmother to Theodora Carleton's tiny son, loved to have Miss Toland with her for an occasional visit, and perhaps once a month went over to Sausalito, to spoil the old doctor with her affectionate attentions, hold long conferences with their mother on the subject of the girls' love affairs, and fall into deep talks with Richie—perhaps the happiest talks in her life, for Richie, whose mind and body had undergone for long years the exquisite discipline of pain, was delightfully unexpected in his views, and his whole lean, ungainly frame vibrated with the eager joy of expressing them.
Perhaps once a month, too, Julia went to see her own mother, calls which always left her definitely depressed. Emeline was becoming more and more crippled with rheumatism, the old grandmother was now the more brisk of the two. May's two younger girls, Muriel and Geraldine, were living there now, as Marguerite and Evelyn had done; awkward, dark, heavy-faced girls who attended the High School. Julia's astonishing rise in life had necessarily affected her relatives, but much less, she realized in utter sickness of spirit, than might have been imagined. She and Jim were paying for the schooling of two of May's boys, and a substantial check, sent to her mother monthly, supposedly covered the main expenses of the entire household. Besides this, Chess was working, and paying his mother something every week for board.
It had been Julia's first confident plan to move the family from the Mission entirely. There were lovely roomy flats in the Western Addition, or there were sunny houses out toward the end of Sutter Street, where her mother and grandmother would be infinitely more comfortable and more accessible. She was stunned when her grandmother flatly refused. Even her mother's approval of the plan was singularly wavering and half hearted. Mrs. Cox argued shrilly that they were poor folks, and poor folks were better off not trapesing all over the city, and Emeline added that Ma would feel lost without her backyard and her neighbours, to say nothing of the privilege of bundling up in a flat black bonnet and brown shawl, hot weather or cold, and trotting off to St. Charles's Church at all hours of the day and night.
"I don't care, Julie," Mrs. Page made her daughter exquisitely uncomfortable by saying very formally, "but there's no girl in God's world that wouldn't think of asking her mother to stay with her for a while—till things got settled, anyway. You haven't done it!"
"Well, I'll tell you, Mama—" Julia began, but Emeline interrupted her.
"You haven't done it, Julie, and let me tell you right now, it looks queer. I'm not the one that says it; every one says it. I don't want to force myself where I'm not—"
"But, Mama dear, we're only at the hotel now!" Julia protested, feeling a hypocrite.
"I see," said Emeline, "and I'm not good enough, of course. I couldn't meet your friends, of course!" She laughed heartily. "That's good!" she said appreciatively.
Julia used to flush angrily under these withering comments, at first; later, her poor little mother's attitude filled her only with a great pity. For Emeline was suffering a great deal now, and Julia longed to be able to take her with her to the Pacific Avenue house, if only to prove that its empty splendour held no particular advantages over the life on Shotwell Street, for Emeline. She was definitely better off in her mother's warm kitchen, gossiping and idling her days away, than she would have been limping aimlessly about in Julia's house, and catching glimpses of Julia only between the many claims of the daughter's day.
More than this, Jim would not hear of such a visit; it never even came to a discussion between husband and wife; he would have been frankly as much surprised as horrified at the idea. So Julia did what was left to her, for her mother: listened patiently to long complaints, paid bills, and supplemented Jim's generous cheque with many a gold piece pressed into her mother's hand or slipped into her grandmother's dreadful old shopping-bag. She carried off her young cousins to equip them with winter suits and sensible shoes, aware all the while that their high-heeled slippers and flimsy, cheap silk dresses, the bangles that they slipped over dirty little hands, and the fancy combs they pushed into their untidy hair, were infinitely more prized by them.
The Shotwell Street house was still close and stuffy, the bedrooms as dark and horrible as Julia remembered them, and no financial aid did more than temporarily soften the family's settled opinion that poor folks were poor folks, and predestined to money trouble. Julia knew that when the clothes she bought her cousins grew dirty they would not be cleaned; she knew that her grandmother had never taken a tub bath in her life and rather scorned the takers of tub baths; she knew that such a thing as the weekly washing of clothes, the transformation of dirty linen into piles of fragrant whiteness, never took place in the Shotwell Street house. Mrs. Cox indeed liked to keep a tub full of gray suds standing in the kitchen, and occasionally souse in it one of her calico wrappers, or a shirt waist belonging to the girls. These would be dried on a rope stretched across the kitchen, and sooner or later pressed with one of the sad irons that Julia remembered as far back as she remembered anything; rough-looking old irons, one with a broken handle, all with the figure seven stamped upon them with a mould. Mrs. Cox had several ironholders drifting about the kitchen, folds of dark cloth that had been so often wet and singed that the covering had split, and the folded newspaper inside showed its burned edges, but she never could find one when she wanted it, and usually improvised a new one from a grocery bag or the folds of her apron, and so burned her veined old knotted hands.
Julia came soon to see that her actual presence did them small good, and did herself real harm, and so, somewhat thankfully, began to confine her attentions more and more to mere financial assistance. She presently arranged for the best of medical care for her mother, even for a hospital stay, but her attitude grew more and more that of the noncommittal outsider, who helps without argument and disapproves without comment. Evelyn had made a great success of her dressmaking, but such aid as she could give must be given her sister, for Marguerite's early and ill-considered marriage had come to the usual point when, with an unreliable husband, constantly arriving and badly managed babies, and bitter poverty and want, she found herself much in the position of her mother, twenty years before. May was still living in Oakland, widowed. Her two sons were at home and working, and with a small income from rented rooms as well, the three and her youngest daughter, Regina, somehow managed to maintain the dreary cottage in which most of the children were born.
"They all give me a great big pain!" Evelyn said one day frankly, when Julia was at Madame Carroll's for a fitting, and the cousins—one standing in her French hat and exquisite underlinen, and the other kneeling, her gown severely black, big scissors in hand, and a pincushion dangling at her breast—were discussing the family. "Gran'ma isn't so bad, because she's old, but Aunt Emeline and Mama have a right to get next to themselves! Mama had a fit because I wouldn't take a flat over here, and have her and Regina with me; well, I could do it perfectly well; it isn't the money!" Evelyn stood up, took seven pins separately and rapidly from her mouth, and inserted them in the flimsy lining that dangled about Julia's arm. "You want this tight, but not too tight, don't you, Julie?" said she. "That can come in a little, still. No," she resumed aggrievedly, "but I board at a nice place on Fulton street; the Lancasters, the people that keep it, are just lovely. Mrs. Lancaster is so motherly and the girls are so jolly; my wash costs me a dollar a week; I belong to the library; I've got a lovely room; I go to the theatre when I want to; I buy the clothes I like, and why should I worry? I know the way Mama keeps house, and I've had enough of it!"
"It's awfully hard," Julia mused, "Marguerite's just doing the same thing over again. It's just discouraging!"
"Well, you got out of it, and I got out of it," Evelyn said briskly, "and they call it our luck! Luck? There ain't any such thing," she went on indignantly. "I'm going to New York for Madame next year—me, to New York, if you please, and stay at a good hotel, and put more than twenty thousand dollars into materials and imported wraps and scarfs and so on—is there any luck to that? There's ten years' slavery, that's what there is! How much do you suppose you'd have married Jim Studdiford if you hadn't kept yourself a little above the crowd, and worked away at the settlement house for years and years?" she demanded. "I can put a little hook in here, Ju, where the lace comes, to keep that in place for you!" she added, more quietly.
"Well, it's true!" Julia said, sighing. She looked with real admiration at the capable, black-clad figure, the clear-skinned, black-eyed face of Madame Carroll's chief assistant. "Why don't you ever come and have lunch with me, Evelyn?" she demanded affectionately.
"Oh, Lord, dearie!" Evelyn said, in her most professional way, as she pencilled a list of young Mrs. Studdiford's proportions on a printed card, "this season Madame has our lunches, and even our dinners, sent in—simply one rush! But some time I'd love to."
"You like your work, don't you, Evelyn?" Julia said curiously.
"You go tell Madame I'm ready for Mrs. Addison," Evelyn said capably to a small black-clad girl who answered her bell, "and then carry this to Minnie and tell her it's rush—don't drop the pins out. I love my work," she added, when she and Julia were alone again; "I'm crazy about it! The girls here are awfully nice, and some of the customers treat me simply swell—most of them do. This way, Julia. Christmas time we get more presents than you could shake a stick at!" said Evelyn, opening a door. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Addison, I'm all ready for you."
"That's a good girl!" the woman who was waiting in Carroll's handsome parlour said appreciatively; she recognized Julia. "Well, how do you do, Mrs. Studdiford?" she smiled, "so sorry not to see you on Saturday, you bad little thing!"
Julia gave her excuse. "You know Evelyn here is my cousin?" she said, in her quiet but uncompromising way, as she hooked her sables together.
"About eleven times removed!" Evelyn said cheerfully. "Right in here, please, Mrs. Addison! At the same time to-morrow, Mrs. Studdiford. Thank you, good-night."
"Good-night!" Julia said, smiling. For some reason she could not fathom, Evelyn never seemed willing to claim the full relationship; always assumed it to be but a hazy and distant connection. It was as if in her success the modiste wished to recognize no element but her own worth; no wealthy or influential relative could claim to have helped her! Julia always left her with a certain warmth at her heart. It was good to come in contact now and then with such self-confidence, such capability, such prosperity. "I could almost envy Evelyn!" thought Julia, spinning home in the twilight.